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Six-string adventures: South African guitarist Derek Gripper finds new directions for instrument

It takes Derek Gripper a lot of work to plan a tour.

Adding to the stress this time around is the water crisis in his hometown – Cape Town, South Africa.

“I’m getting out of here for a bit,” he says in a recent Skype interview. “Things are as good as they can be. We will run out of water in about 60 days. It’s really warm now. It’s kind of surreal to be here right now. It just means that we stink a bit and won’t be able to bathe as often. We will adjust to what we need to.”

Despite the crisis, Gripper has a job to do.

He will leave on tour for nearly two months and hopes that when he returns home it won’t be too bad.

“We’re resilient,” he says of South Africans. “It feels like we’re just ahead of the curve on this one. I’m sure other places will run out of water if nothing is done. It’s a world issue.”

On his tour, Gripper will make two stops in New Mexico.

And he’s turning to music to keep his mind at ease.

Gripper began his musical training at 6 years old with violin.

After studying classical music for the next 13 years, he began to look further afield for musical inspiration.

This search took him to India, where he studied South Indian Carnatic music. On his return home, he began to focus on guitar, trying to find a new direction for the instrument.

He was attracted to the use of multiple layers in the music of Oliver Messiaen, the African-influenced structures of Steve Reich, as well as to guitar arrangements of the music of J.S.Bach, but it was when he met up with Cape jazz trumpeter Alex van Heerden that he started to see that his previous studies could be used to find new directions for the music of South Africa.

“I’m trying to explore more than what I did with the last two albums,” Gripper says. “I focused on contemporary choral music. It is unique and modern. I’ve been mentored by Lucy Duran, who is one of the world experts in music. She’s helping look into the older repertoire of the choral music. It’s been an amazing journey.”

When Gripper arrives home in two months, he’s looking forward to performing in his hometown in a venue he’s never performed in.

“It’s going to be in the summer and outdoors in this jungle-looking venue,” he says. “I’ll be back home performing for my hometown.”