The last day of WOMEX is usually taken up with an awards ceremony and last minute networking within the world music community. But this year it found me traveling through Galicia in a bus bound for the Monastery of Santa Cristina, and a concert by classically trained guitarist Derek Gripper, presented by Ecos da Pedra. It was a kind of a “those in the know” event, and I was happy to be on board.
Derek Gripper’s Kora Transcriptions from Michal Shapiro on Vimeo.
Derek Gripper, who hails from South Africa, is a singular guitarist; he has fallen in love with the repertoire of Africa’s classic stringed instruments, the ngoni, the akonting, and especially, the 21 string kora. He describes a turning point in his musical life, when he heard the kora master Toumani Diabaté’s breakthrough recording “Kaira.” Diabaté had created a technique whereby he was able to take the parts of three koras and play them simultaneously on his instrument. The sound was remarkable, and Gripper set about using his classical transcription training to set down the music in western notation so that it might be played on the guitar. He spent many hours practicing new fingerings, tunings and techniques to get the right inversions and resonances. His work has paid off, and these venerable compositions, passed down through the hundreds years old oral tradition of the griots, now have a new life on the 6 strings and complex fret board of the western guitar. In this regard, he is in the company of groups like the Kronos Quartet, Yo Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble, or the Brooklyn Rider, which are also dedicated to expanding the appreciation for international musical traditions. But Gripper takes it a step further, in that he is making these pieces available to other musicians, for their own interpretations, through accurate western notation.
Gripper’s concert (which also included a rendition of a piece by Luis de Norvaese, and Bach’s Chaconne) showcased the dignity and spirituality of this African repertoire, and fit well with the austere setting. The stone structure created acoustics that were formidably alive, so I was fortunate to obtain the crystal clean audio recording of “Tutu Jara” made by Rafael Kotchera Campora for this video.
The trip took our group of delegates from the lovely city of Santiago de Compostela, and out into the countryside, as we headed up into the mountainous region of Parada de Sil. Arriving at the Monastery we found the audience of townspeople already assembled, and the concert area illuminated by only some small, high windows, and a bank of votive candles by the alter. It made for a meditative ambiance (no surprise) but challenging shooting!
This concert was part of a series of concerts at the monastery that Ecos da Pedra presents there; it is part of an ongoing initiative to awaken the sacred acoustics of this 11th century Benedictine monastery along with drawing attention to the amazing beauty and history of this part of interior Galicia. (Two years before, Ecos da Pedra along with Wapapura, organized a pre-WOMEX retreat, which I am told was truly transcendent.) After the concert we were treated to a bountiful tapas buffet at the nearby Casa Elvira restaurant, and then a sampling of the artisanal coffee liqueur produced by Ecos Da Pedra at their licor bodega that produces handcrafted traditional Galician liqeuers. It was a sweet way to end a wondrous excursion.
click here to see another Kora related video by Michal.
For more about Derek Gripper, visit www.derekgripper.com
Thanks to Michael Feldman for helping me get a brighter, cleaner image from my footage.
For more about Ecos Da Pedra, visit:
Bruce Arnold says
Very cool stuff. Really enjoy these transcriptions and Derek Gripper really did a great job performing this material.
Vered Lieb says
This is really exciting music and the theory of transcribing for one instrument onto another opens up fascinating opportunities. Could Derek Gripper’s groundbreaking work lend this same tradition open for other stringed instruments like the cello? You mention Yo Yo Ma, would he be able to play this traditional music now that it is notated? I would love to hear a musician like Bruce Arnold (who I noticed left a comment) play this music with a full band. Very exciting and beautiful music. Thanks for the visuals of the monastery and the mountains. Gorgeous video all around.
Michal Shapiro says
Hi and glad you enjoyed the video. I believe that Gripper’s transcriptions are all created for the 6-string guitar. Since the cello has only 4 strings, some of the notation might need to be altered. But I think Gripper has done the heavy lifting here, and transferring the music from the guitar to another lute or violin-like instrument would not be as hard as if there were no western transcription at all. But I will forward your question to Mr. Gripper and see if he replies. Stay tuned!