Theatre Royal, Castlemaine, Victoria,Australia
I may have written about Derek Gripper previously. A white South African highly accomplished classical guitarist who came across a recording of Toumani Diabate’s Kaira and , without having held a kora let alone seen it in performance, sought to imitate the sound on classical guitar. Toumani Diabate was staggered when he eventually heard his work and, upon hearing it, classical guitarist John Williams put him on a bill at The Globe in London. The rest, as they say, is history. He now travels the globe performing at festivals and collaborating with various musicians. He was played and stayed with Toumani Diabate in Mali and played before the nation’s griots in Bamako.
The album that broke it for him was “a night on earth with Derek Gripper” hence my headline. That album was put out by friends of mine on the wonderful Matsuli label, so when he was to appear at a guitar festival in Melbourne, contact was made. He had a grab bag of gigs at the festival some country theatres and home performances. I offered to drive him to Castlemaine – the grand old gold rush town in Central Victoria. My family comes from up that way so I took him on a backroads tour to the accompaniment of a Gambian kora CD of mine that he was much taken with. Apparently, they were playing a style of kora playing rarely heard these days. News to me. He was delighted to see some kangaroos at Hanging Rock that were alive and not roadkill and we discussed the similarity of land and rock formations in Southern Africa and Australia.
On the road, we talked about South African politics, African music and the challenges of having family in Cape Town but virtually no work and little creative stimulus when all the musicians he collaborates with are elsewhere. He has started a little venture of providing online classes on how to play Malian music on guitar. Early days but it shows promise. The latest ones are on the guitar playing of Ali Farka Toure. We discussed guitars – he plays a classical guitar made by a company in Germany who made guitars for Segovia and mics. On stage he uses his own ribbon mics with phantom power. And we discussed classical music. Derek reckons the genre is pretty fucked, waning interest and highly strung ( no pun intended) guitarists playing without a sense of fun and enjoyment.
So on to Castlemaine and the show. An old cinema that now hosts a variety of performances. This gig was a tack on. There were few people there though some in attendance had traveled distances to attend before the gig a few nervous star-struck fans came up to express appreciation for his wonderful music. So I flopped down on a soft worn out comfy lounge to the rear and out came Derek. What a wonderful cascade of notes. So fluent, so light, so goddamn easy. I think the programme was all Malian featuring kora standards and Ali Farka Toure except for a bit of JS Bach as an encore. He has a dry quirky sense of humour. I wonder how it goes in America but down here, all good. He explained the paradigm shift when Toumani played bass, rhythm and melody lines all at the same time on the one kora. Apparently, before then they were separate. It was simply beautiful music, wonderful sound and highly enjoyable.
It was awkward that so few attended. I asked how he felt about that – “once I start playing, it doesn’t matter”. Indeed, once he started playing it didn’t matter.
Very small, maybe 20. Some locals fronting up coz it happened to be on and some younger Derek Gripper fans who had made the trip to Castlemaine.
It made me think..
What twist of fate for Derek to come across that Toumani Diabate CD, for John Williams to be given his recording just as he was compiling the artist list for The Globe, for me to tack on to my message “I don’t suppose you need a lift up to Castlemaine?”.