Presented by Carnegie Hall in partnership with Robert Browning Associates LLC.
Derek Gripper's exploration of Mali's greatest instrumental virtuosos has created a new form of classical guitar music out of one of Africa's richest musical traditions. His ninth album, One Night on Earth: Music from the Strings of Mali, was recorded in a single all-night session. The album magically conjures anew a centuries-old African musical heritage, interpreting the kora compositions of Malian virtuoso Toumani Diabaté on solo guitar.
When Diabaté heard these recordings, he asked producer Lucy Durán to confirm that she had actually seen one person play this music on just one guitar. Diabaté immediately invited Gripper to collaborate with him in Mali-an invitation that led to Gripper performing at the Festival Acoustik de Bamako in early 2016, the first international festival held in Mali since the 2012 coup. Gripper has also performed multiple times in London with John Williams, as well as globally as a solo artist and with classical Indian slide guitarist Debashish Bhattacharya, with whom he will continue to collaborate in 2017.
His newest album, Libraries on Fire, showcases his ability to speak the language of the griots as fluently as the West African masters, who he says "enlarge our idea of what a composer is and perhaps bring us closer to the music of early European classical music." One of the pieces from this album was arranged for the Kronos Quartet.
Gripper's most recent work incorporates transcriptions and improvisations centered around the work of African composer-performers--such as Madosini from South Africa; Ali Farka Touré, Ballaké Sissoko, Salif Keita, and Fanta Sacko from Mali; and Amadu Bansang Jobarteh from the Gambia--as well as his own original compositions based on music from the Western Cape of South Africa and beyond.
Gripper began his formal musical training at the age of six on the violin. After studying classical music in Cape Town for 13 years, he began to look further afield for musical inspiration. This search took him to India, where he studied South Indian music. Upon his return home, he began to focus on the guitar, trying to find a new direction for the instrument. He was attracted to the use of multiple layers in the music of Olivier Messiaen and the African-influenced structures of Steve Reich, as well as to guitar arrangements of music by J. S. Bach. After a host of groundbreaking albums that redefined the landscape of South African music--most notably the visionary Sagtevlei with Alex van Heerden--Gripper began to incorporate the music of other composers into his performances. His long-time fascination with the music of Brazilian Egberto Gismonti led to a project of guitar transcriptions (alongside his own compositions) on the 2012 release The Sound of Water, which was nominated for a South African Music Award for the Best Classical/Instrumental Album.
Gripper's work continues to explore the line between improvisation and classical interpretation, applying lessons he's learned from the great masters of Africa to everything from composition to the interpretation of music by J. S. Bach.
Trio Da Kali, composed of musicians from the Mandé culture of southern Mali who come from a long line of distinguished griots (oral historians / praise singers), aims to bring a contemporary twist to ancient and neglected repertoires. It takes its name from one of the oldest and most iconic praise songs in the griot repertoire: "Da kali" (translated as "to make a pledge"). The trio was initiated by the Aga Khan Music Initiative, a program of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, in order to collaborate with the Kronos Quartet. Following the debut appearance of the collaboration in 2014, the two groups came together again to perform at the 2015 Montreux Jazz Festival.
Trio Da Kali has appeared at some of the world's most prestigious venues. It made its first international appearance in 2013 at the BBC Proms in London, followed by performances with Toumani Diabaté at the Théâtre de la Ville in Paris and the London Jazz Festival. This year's appearances include Celtic Connections in Glasgow; the British Library as part of its exhibition West Africa: Word, Symbol, Song; the Festival del Centro Histórico in Mexico City; and the Cully Jazz Festival in Switzerland. Last year, Trio Da Kali's recorded repertoire was brought to an international market with an EP produced by Lucy Durán for World Circuit.
The trio's vocalist, Hawa Kassé Mady Diabaté,is the daughter of legendary singer Kassé Mady Diabaté. She has been compared to gospel singer Mahalia Jackson and is acclaimed as one of Mali's finest griot voices. She performs the songs she grew up with in Kela, located at the heart of the griot world. She appeared at the India-Africa Forum Summit in New Delhi with Indian Sufi gospel creator Sonam Kalra, and this summer sang in Terry Riley's In C Mali at Les Nuits de Fourvière in France and the Holland Festival. Hawa performed on set and contributed repertoire to the remake of the 1977 hit miniseries Roots, which aired earlier this year.
Master balafon player Lassana Diabaté, the trio's musical director, began playing at the age of five with his father, master musician Djelisory Diabaté, and later apprenticed himself to the celebrated El Hadj Djeli Sory Kouyaté and Alkali Camara. He has recorded and toured with many of West Africa's foremost musicians, and was a member of Afrocubism and Toumani Diabaté's Symmetric Orchestra. He performed on set in the remake of Roots and contributed to the Kronos Quartet's Fifty for the Future commissioning project with his work Sunjata's Time.
Bass ngoni player Mamadou Kouyaté, the eldest son of renowned ngoni player Bassekou Kouyaté, is one of Mali's most creative musicians of the new generation. He tours and records with his father's group, Ngoniba, and also runs his own studio in Bamako.
This program marks Trio Da Kali's New York debut.