Derek Gripper: Finding the New Cape
AAJ: In regards to the issue of making a living, your liner notes to your solo album, Blomdoorns (New Cape, 2010), speak to the same point, that you were frustrated with the arts scene in South Africa. Yet here we are, nearly eight years later, with you back in South Africa performing your music and releasing these albums on your own label. What changed in the ensuing years?
DG: [Laughs] Nothing! I still don't make a living.
But a lot has happened. I have become a father of four. I have delved into the guitar in a totally new way. I have slowly made what is a quite literal instrument into a vehicle for the very non-literal music that we started with Sagtevlei. i have recorded two more solo CDs, plus a Bach one, and the language continues to develop. I have also just made a CD with the tabla player Udai Mazumdarrevisiting the roots of ghoema in the East. So there has been a lot of exploration, finding my own feet, and decided to stand on them alone without engaging with the existing music industry. I am trying to find a new way for my music, something outside of the whole music drama.
AAJ: Udai Mazumdar is one of two unusual artists that pop up on New Cape, as well as Xhosa musician Madosini. Madosini is particularly interesting as her album is not a collaboration with either you or with Alex. How did you encounter these artists?
DG: There is again a connection to the work with Alex. We went our different ways after Hemisfar, but received a commission once we were both back in SA to write a piece for the Bow Project. This involved Madosini, and we both realized that here was another source. When she started playing in the performance, Alex almost fell off his chair. We played with string quartet, Alex, me, and her. Wonderful! Madosini and I have since gotten together, both to play together, to do double bill shows and to release her latest solo CD, which is too marvelous. Her ability to evoke an entire world of music from a little stick and a thin wire and her mouth is beyond ridiculous...magic, pure and simple.
As for Udai, we met in Basel last year. I went there to contribute to a memorial to Alex. I spent a lot of time in India when I was still studying, and was really into the whole Indian rhythm thing. Alex met Udai in Basel and said he finally understood what I was on about, and also we had this theory about the ghoema being a kind of bhangra! Just a joke, but close to the truth.
So at the memorial concert Udai liked what he heard on the guitar so I asked him to him play with me...I didn't realize he was a really serious Indian classical player, who studied for ten years with Ravi Shankar and all that. So we had such a good time in ten minutes of playing together that he came to South Africa and we just exploded then! We created this really tight fusion outfitnothing like the usual guitar and tabla fusionssomething pretty new I think. We are touring Southern African and Switzerand later this year.
AAJ: Looking at the current releases of New Cape Records, I see that two of the albums (Blomdoorns and Sagtevlei) were originally release on (drummer/producer) Ross Campbell's Open Record. It seems there is a small group of passionate and dedicated artists in the Cape trying to both preserve and highlight this music. Do you feel a sense of community among the artists? Was your own work with New Cape something of a spiritual continuation of Open Record?
DG: Totally. Ross paved the way with Open Record. It was a great idea and a wonderful beginning for everybody involved. I would say the major difference is that New Cape is more focused in terms of the direction of the music. Where Open Record focused on a diverse body of contemporary sounds from South Africa, New Cape Records is more about archiving a specific Cape direction, even though this direction takes many different forms, from Madosini, to Gramadoelas to Alex and my own solo projects.
As to a community, sometimes yes and sometimes no. Maybe this is that start of a new community. I don't know. I am happy if it is just a meeting in terms of recordings, and that the musicians carry on their unique paths independently. I don't think the recordings being released changes much in our lives as musicians, but it does make a statement about our shared heritage, so that is good for the audience, to start seeing connections.
Alex van Heerden/Derek Gripper, Sagtevlei (New Cape, 2010)
Derek Gripper, Blomdoorns (New Cape, 2010)
Derek Gripper/Udai Mazumdar, Rising (New Cape, 2010)
Derek Gripper, Kai Kai (New Cape Records, 2010)
Benguela, Black South Easter (Jaunted Haunts Press, 2010)
All Photos: Courtesy of Derek Gripper