“It’s Wonderful To Almost Be Back In Hawaii” – Derek Gripper Returns Via Livestreaming Concert


When I heard that the Kahilu Theater was doing their first livestreaming concert and that it was going to be South African guitarist Derek Gripper, I immediately said, “I’m getting a ticket for that!” After all, it was the Kahilu that introduced me to Derek’s music when they brought him to Hawaii Island for an in-person show back on February 1, 2019. I was happily surprised at the time to discover an amazing solo fingerstyle guitarist that I had never heard of. The in-person concert was extraordinary, and this follow-up concert did not disappoint.

The livestreaming concert was a first for the Kahilu and me as well. The preparation required was not particularly daunting, thankfully. Kahilu provided a link to a private YouTube channel via email, so I first installed the YouTube app on my iPhone. When the app opened up there was a pretty intuitive icon (a square with three diagonal lines in the lower-left corner) that I clicked on and was asked if I wanted to connect with my TV model…”Yes.” I clicked on the link in the email from Kahilu and immediately a still photo of Derek appeared on both my phone and my TV, with the message “Live in 30 hours.” I was even prompted to set a reminder on my phone. At the start of the show the next day, the only additional step I fumbled with was learning that I still had to use my TV remote to start the stream on my TV. After that, I experienced impressive audio and video with nary a glitch. Chuck Gessert, Kahilu’s Artistic Director, kindly let me know the following day that Derek was allowing the YouTube link to stay active for 24 hours, so I was able to replay and (try to) figure out how Derek does what he does. This feature almost makes it better than a live show for me.

Derek came to us from the Milestone Studios in Capetown, South Africa. They’re 12 hours ahead of us, so our 7 p.m. start time was 7 a.m. there. No doubt he had to get up at the crack of dawn to be at the studio and ready to go. “The earliest show I’ve ever done,” he said. Appropriately for a livestream to Hawaii, Derek opened the show with ukulele in hand and recounted the tale of purchasing the instrument in Hilo, then performed Ali Farka Touré’s “’56” on the high-G tenor uke in standard GCEA. You know, it was great, but I didn’t mind when he set the uke aside and picked up the same beautiful Herman Hauser III classical guitar that he played here last year.

South African guitar virtuoso Derek Gripper

The first guitar tune was in standard EADGBE with a capo on the fourth fret. This much slower and meditative tune, Für Alina by Estonian piano composer Arvo Pärt, took advantage of the entire fretboard and was a lovely counterpoint to the uptempo “’56.” I have to think that Derek gave a lot of thought to his selection of tunes for this just over an hour performance. It flowed so well (most tuning changes took place without pause) and offered so much variation, like the two tunes that came next. They’re in the same tuning, but one is an interpretation of mouth bow music and the other is JS Bach!

For “I Like The Motorcar” by South African mouth bow player Mardosini Motokali, Derek dropped the G-string down a semitone for EADF#BE, still Capo IV. This was a funky tune where he played freely over a repetitive bass line, sang along with wordless vocals, and closed it out with some very cool artificial harmonics on the low string. [In my defense for including tunings and notes about left and right-hand techniques, I’ll just say that those techniques and non-standard tunings and use of a capo are part of what enables Derek to develop music for piano, 21-string kora, and mouth bow (as well as his unique compositions) into astounding guitar performances.] The classical music that followed was “Partita in D minor” and “Fugue in G minor” by JS Bach. It featured subtle bends and it was beautiful.

I confess that my notes get out of sync with the setlist that Derek provided and which you’ll find below. I thought that the next tune was “Jarabi” and that “Elyne Road” came later. It’s probably safe to go with what Derek says. Anyway, at this point Derek dropped the E string to D without missing a beat, so he’s now in DADF#BE (a little geeky aside: this is the same tuning M Ward used for “Chinese Translation”), and plays the distinctive Malian Kora music for guitar that I tuned in for. The repetitive bass line for this tune requires extreme muting with the left hand fretting fingers for a cool percussive effect.

Next, so that the fourth string wouldn’t feel left out, Derek lowered it a semitone. For any diehards still reading, he’s now in DAC#F#BE with a capo on the third fret. He played ‘Ana’ and segued into “Fanta and Felix.” Both tunes are original compositions from his most recent album A Year of Swimming and they’re lovely. Was anyone else reminded of the guitar compositions of American guitarist Steve Tibbetts? Derek returned to DADF#BE capo III for the hypnotic Malian kora sounding tune that followed.

For his encore (yes, people were able to type “Hana Hou!” into the comment field), Derek performed “Koortjie for the Kommetjie Whales’, also from the new album. He introduced the tune by saying it was about whales (sadly about beaching of whales), but that it has come to mean more about a “crisis of leadership” to him. The tuning was CADGCE with no capo and the first few measures made me think this was going to be a case of technique over composition. I was wrong. It became very melodic and evocative.

For one last comment about technique, I have to quote a guy named Nick Stephens who commented on the NPR Music Tiny Desk concert that Derek did in 2016. “The hammer-on pull-off force is strong in this one.” Indeed. I love that.

’56 | Fur Alina |I Like the Motorcar |Partita in D minor | Fuga in G minor |Elyne Road |Ana |
Fanta and Felix |

Encore: Koortjie |

Eric Burkhardt formerly managed restaurants and a technical bookstore in Austin, Texas, and Denver, Colorado. He currently enjoys gardening and playing stringed instruments on Hawaii Island.

Photos courtesy of Derek Gripper.

For music and more, please visit Derek Gripper’s official website: https://www.derekgripper.com.


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