Derek Gripper: Tiny Desk Concert Inspired by Toumani Diabate, the classically trained South African guitarist performs songs originally written for the kora.

Tiny Desk

Derek Gripper

You probably shouldn't be reading this — just listen to Derek Gripper play and watch his fingers work. You can see and hear his classical training from his first notes behind the Tiny Desk.

The 38-year-old started on violin at age 6, then wound up with one of the few classical-guitar professors in his native South Africa. But touring the world playing the music of the great dead white men was not all that appealing (though Gripper still loves to play Bach). Then he heard a record by the Malian kora player Toumani Diabate. He decided that that's what he wanted to do: not play the kora itself, but play kora music on the guitar.

Of course, the kora has 21 strings, each tuned to a fixed note. The nylon-stringed guitar Gripper plays has six. But by using unusual tunings and fretting the strings up and down the neck with his left hand, he can pretty much hit all of the kora's notes. He shows how he can evoke the West African instrument's multiple voices simultaneously in the third piece of his Tiny Desk concert, "Jarabi."

The remarkable thing is, he figured all of this out — and recorded two acclaimed albums — just by listening to CDs and checking out music online. Gripper painstakingly transcribed what he heard onto a kind of notation called tablature — similar to the music written for the Renaissance vihuela, which was also an inspiration. Earlier this year, Gripper finally made it to Mali, where his efforts received the blessing of Toumani Diabate himself; the two even jammed together. Now, go back to the concert.

Libraries On Fire is available now. (iTunes) (Amazon)

Set List

  • "Tuth Jara" (Trad. Arr. Derek Gripper)
  • "Joni" (Derek Gripper)
  • "Jarabi" (Trad. Arr. Derek Gripper)
  • "Duga" (Trad. Arr. Derek Gripper)

Musicians

Derek Gripper (guitar)

Credits

Producers: Tom Cole, Niki Walker; Audio Engineer: Josh Rogosin; Videographers: Niki Walker, Nicole Boliaux; Production Assistant: Anna Marketti; Photo: Raquel Zaldivar/NPR.

For more Tiny Desk concerts, subscribe to our podcast.

[+] read more[-] less

More From Tiny Desk

Yola Carter performs during tiny desk on December, 12, 2019. (Photo by Mhari Shaw/NPR) Mhari Shaw/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Mhari Shaw/NPR

Yola

The singer who once sang backup for Massive Attack, Iggy Azalea and The Chemical Brothers, is front-and-center at the Tiny Desk.

Joyce DiDonato performs during a Tiny Desk concert, on Nov. 11, 2019. (Catie Dull/NPR) Catie Dull/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Catie Dull/NPR

Joyce DiDonato

Watch the celebrated opera star deconstruct old Italian love songs with her signature flair, backed by a crack jazz ensemble.

Jordan Rakei performs during Tiny Desk on Nov. 15 2019. (Photo by Mhari Shaw/NPR) Mhari Shaw/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Mhari Shaw/NPR

Jordan Rakei

Despite some unexpected gear problems, the soulful R&B artist and his band locked-in and played a phenomenal set behind the Tiny Desk.

Brownout performs a Tiny Desk Concert on Oct. 18, 2018. Cameron Pollack/NPR/Cameron Pollack/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Cameron Pollack/NPR/Cameron Pollack/NPR

Brownout

The Austin, Texas band brought old-school R&B horns, bongos and deep grooves to the Tiny Desk.

Bridget Kibbey performs during a Tiny Desk concert, on Oct. 24, 2019. (Catie Dull/NPR) Catie Dull/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Catie Dull/NPR

Bridget Kibbey

The irrepressible harpist proves that the instrument can be as tempestuous as a tango, as complex as a Bach fugue and sing as serenely as a church choir.

Jon Batiste performs during Tiny Desk on November, 8 2019. (Photo by Mhari Shaw/NPR) Mhari Shaw/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Mhari Shaw/NPR

Jon Batiste

Jon Batiste's Tiny Desk Concert was published prematurely. The new publication date is March 2020.

Daniel Norgren performs during a Tiny Desk concert, on Sep. 25, 2019. (Catie Dull/NPR) Catie Dull/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Catie Dull/NPR

Daniel Norgren

The Swedish singer sways and writhes as he and his band create a dream state calming enough to slow the day's hectic pace to a crawl. Take a seat on a comfy couch and have a listen.

Spanglish Fly performs at a Tiny Desk Concert on Sept. 9, 2019. (Emily Bogle/NPR) Emily Bogle/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Emily Bogle/NPR

Spanglish Fly

Spanglish Fly is one of the pioneers of the boogaloo revival scene happening on the East Coast. For about sixteen minutes, they turned the NPR Music offices into the hottest Latin dance club in D.C.

Balún plays a Tiny Desk Concert (Claire Harbage/NPR). Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Claire Harbage/NPR

Balún

It's impossible to not be drawn in by the visual specter of Balún as the band mixes traditional instruments and electronics, set against a rich tapestry of voices.

Moonchild performs during a Tiny Desk concert, on Oct. 17, 2019. (Catie Dull/NPR) Catie Dull/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Catie Dull/NPR

Moonchild

The LA-based trio makes an intricate blend of jazz, R&B and hip-hop. For their Tiny Desk set, they pulled out all the stops: flutes, flugelhorns, saxophones, keyboards, ukuleles and more.

Back To Top