His name is Derek Gripper. I’m guessing most of you at home haven’t yet heard of him, but he is quickly becoming one of the most celebrated guitarists on the planet.

Grammy Award Winner (and possibly one of the greatest guitar players of all time), John Williams, has said that what Gripper does is ” absolutely impossible!” and is one of the most interesting things he has heard on guitar in 20 years.

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It is no wonder, then, that Gripper and Willams now share the stage together in sold out shows around the world. I attended one such gig last Friday at King’s Place in London and to put it simply, Gripper’s playing is arresting.

Gripper has scaled musical Everest by doing something no one has ever even considered attempting, and with incredible results. Obsessed by the African traditional instrument, the Kora – a 21-stringed West African lute made out of cow-hide – ¬†and consumed by heritage music around the African continent, he has managed, not only to arrange these traditional songs for the classical guitar, but has brought with it the intensity, subtleties and authenticity of the cultures that gave this music it’s birth.

Far more importantly, through the act of transcribing this music, he has managed to record one of the most undocumented and vital musical histories on the planet for future generations to study. To be clear, he has made a genuine contribution to the world of music. For this alone, Gripper deserves serious credit.

But for me, one of the most exciting things of all was to watch this incredible talent perform his heart out next to his musical hero, hold his own and show the world that he has something truly unique and powerful to offer.

It’s a travesty that more South African’s are not supporting this guy, because he is a rising phenomenon that the rest of the world is beginning to notice. SAMA nominations, none? Airplay, none? Local support?

photo 2I have known Gripper since we were in our teens. We started numerous rock bands together. He was a violinist and I a guitar player. We were each others first musical partners and songwriters, always fighting over who was the Lennon and who was the McCartney, but both obsessed with making music and pushing boundaries – passionate but clueless.

Derek disappeared off of my radar for close to a decade and when he reappeared (a year or two ago), he was already the monster that I witnessed on Friday night. It was both a shock and an incredible pleasure.

I urge you to buy all his albums and keep your eye on this guy and if you see him on the street, get is autograph while you still can.

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