Album Review: Derek Gripper – A Year of Swimming [New Cape Records; April 2020]

In keeping with the traditional, classical style guitar techniques, Derek Gripper, once again, respectfully represents the quintessence of a traditional West African kora. Derek utilises his classically trained handiwork in favour of this tradition, of which the album delivers generously. The rhythmical complexities and soulful embellishments akin to the West African practises, are at one with Derek’s unique writing abilities. But in spite of the technical distinctions between these instruments, Derek too, finds beauty in simplicity and technique.

Startling with its opening track, it is obvious that Derek’s Year of Swimming became a vehicle for Derek’s instrumental renderings. The album radiates positivity, charm and perfect tranquillity. “Fanta and Felix” is an exasperating medley of pain and revelation, and instead of losing control of life’s misfortunes, Derek takes refuge in his craftsmanship and is content.

Reworks of Baaba Maal, Mansour Seck, Salif Keita, Madosini are among Derek’s own compositions. What makes these West African griots so prominent in their music, is their ability to integrate rhythm, melody and persistent drone like bass lines into one instrument, particularly the kora. Derek does exactly this, except with a nylon six stringed guitar.

It is no surprise to hear of Derek’s interactions with Toumami Diabate and more of Africa’s most celebrated composers, on his journey of exploration. Derek’s take on Salif Keita’s “Ananaming”, is a particularly telling rendition to associate with. The percussive slapping of the acoustic guitar, as opposed to a traditional calabash, has the earmarks of a Michael Hedges devilishly abrupt performance trait.

A Year of Swimming, in all its integrity, is a metaphorical dance between genre divergence and introspective visionary, reflecting upon personal upheavals and Derek’s innovative mode of transportation, to what is authentic.