Words by Nigel Williamson
Del Boy’s six strings take on a kora’s 21
Since Songlines first championed the South African guitarist Derek Gripper following his 2012 album One Night on Earth, his transpositions of kora works by Toumani Diabaté, Ali Farka Touré and others for solo acoustic guitar have received widespread acclaim. The classical guitar legend John Williams said he thought that it was ‘absolutely impossible… until I heard Derek Gripper do it’ and Toumani himself was impressed enough to invite the guitarist to collaborate with him in Mali. This follow-up album, taking its title from a celebrated West African saying that ‘when a griot dies it’s like a library burning,’ transposes nine more kora pieces – seven of them from Toumani’s repertoire.
The results are once again spectacular, both in terms of technical brilliance and dreamy musicality. He also adds compositions by Ballaké Sissoko and Amadou Bansang Jobarteh to his project, to create an African repertoire for the classical guitar and it’s highly instructive to play his takes of these tunes alongside the original kora versions. On ‘Lampedusa’, for example, first heard on the 2014 album Toumani & Sidiki, it sounds like Gripper doesn’t miss a single note, despite having only six strings at his command against the 42 mustered by Diabaté père et fils. Breathtakingly wonderful.