Ibrahim performing at the 2011 Moers Festival
|Birth name||Adolph Johannes Brand|
|Also known as||Dollar Brand|
9 October 1934 |
Cape Town, South Africa
|Genres||South African jazz, bebop, post-bop, folk|
|Occupation(s)||Musician, composer, bandleader|
|Instruments||Piano, saxophone, cello|
|Associated acts||Sathima Bea Benjamin, Jean Grae|
Abdullah Ibrahim (born Adolph Johannes Brand on 9 October 1934 and formerly known as Dollar Brand) is a South African pianist and composer. His music reflects many of the musical influences of his childhood in the multicultural port areas of Cape Town, ranging from traditional African songs to the gospel of the AME Church and ragas, to more modern jazz and other Western styles. Ibrahim is considered the leading figure in the subgenre of Cape jazz. Within jazz, his music particularly reflects the influence of Thelonious Monk and Duke Ellington. He is known especially for "Mannenberg", a jazz piece that became a notable anti-apartheid anthem.
During the apartheid era in the 1960s Ibrahim moved to New York City and, apart from a brief return to South Africa in the 1970s, remained in exile until the early '90s. Over the decades he has toured the world extensively, appearing at major venues either as a solo artist or playing with other renowned musicians, including Max Roach, Carlos Ward and Randy Weston, as well as collaborating with classical orchestras in Europe. With his wife, the jazz singer Sathima Bea Benjamin, he is father to the New York underground rapper Jean Grae, as well as to a son, Tsakwe.
Ibrahim was born in Cape Town on 9 October 1934, and was baptized Adolph Johannes Brand. He attended Trafalgar High School in Cape Town's District Six, and began piano lessons at the age of seven, making his professional debut at 15. He is of mixed-race heritage, making him a Coloured person according to the South African government. His mother played piano in a church, the musical style of which would remain an influence; in addition, he learned to play several genres of music during his youth in Cape Town, including marabi, mbaqanga, and American jazz. He became well known in jazz circles in Cape Town and Johannesburg. In 1959 and 1960, Ibrahim played with the Jazz Epistles group in Sophiatown, alongside saxophonist Kippie Moeketsi, trumpeter Hugh Masekela, trombonist Jonas Gwangwa (who were all in the orchestra of the musical King Kong that opened in Johannesburg in February 1959), bassist Johnny Gertze and drummer Makaya Ntshoko; in January 1960, the six musicians went into the Gallo studio and recorded the first full-length jazz LP by Black South African musicians, Jazz Epistle Verse One, with 500 copies being produced. Although the group avoided explicitly political activity, the apartheid government was suspicious of it and other jazz groups, and targeted them heavily during the increase in state repression following the Sharpeville massacre, and eventually, the Jazz Epistles broke up.
Ibrahim moved to Europe in 1962. In February 1963, his wife-to-be, Sathima Bea Benjamin (they married in 1965), convinced Duke Ellington, who was in Zürich, Switzerland, on a European tour, to come to hear Ibrahim perform as "The Dollar Brand Trio" in Zurich's "Africana Club". After the show, Ellington helped set up a recording session with Reprise Records: Duke Ellington presents The Dollar Brand Trio. A second recording of the trio (also with Ellington and Billy Strayhorn on piano) performing with Sathima as vocalist was recorded, but remained unreleased until 1996 (A Morning in Paris, under Benjamin's name). The Dollar Brand Trio (with Johnny Gertze on bass and Makaya Ntshoko on drums) subsequently played at many European festivals, as well as on radio and television.
Ibrahim and Benjamin moved to New York in 1965 and that year he played at the Newport Jazz Festival, followed by a first tour through the US; in 1966 Ibrahim substituted for Duke Ellington on five dates, leading the Duke Ellington Orchestra. In 1967, a Rockefeller Foundation grant enabled him to study at the Juilliard School of Music in New York. While in the US he interacted with many progressive musicians, among them Don Cherry, Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, Cecil Taylor and Archie Shepp. As the Black Power movement developed in the 1960s and 1970s, it influenced a number of Ibrahim's friends and collaborators, who began to see their music as a form of cultural nationalism. Ibrahim in turn began to incorporate African elements into his jazz.
Return to South Africa
Ibrahim briefly returned to South Africa in the mid-1970s, having in 1968 converted to Islam (with the resultant change of name from Dollar Brand to Abdullah Ibrahim). He met Rashid Vally at the latter's Kohinoor record shop in Johannesburg in the early 1970s, and Vally produced two of Ibrahim's albums in the following years. The pair produced a third album in 1974, titled Underground in Africa, in which Ibrahim abandoned his financially unsuccessful folk-infused jazz of the previous albums. Instead, the new album was a fusion of jazz, rock music, and South Africa popular music, and sold well. While recording Underground, Ibrahim collaborated with Oswietie, a local band of which Robbie Jansen and Basil Coetzee were saxophonists, and who played a large role in creating the album's fusion style. After the success of Underground, Ibrahim asked Coetzee to bring together a supporting band for his next recording: the group Coetzee put together included Jansen, as well as others who had not worked on Underground. The composition "Mannenberg" was recorded in June 1974 during one of Ibrahim's visits back to South Africa, in a studio in Cape Town, and was produced by Rashid Vally. The track was recorded in one take during a period of collective improvisation. The piece was inspired by the Cape Flats township where many of those forcibly removed from District Six were sent.
The recordings made with Jansen and Coetzee, including "Mannenberg" (renamed "Capetown Fringe" in its US release), "Black Lightning"; "African Herbs"; and "Soweto Is Where It Is At" – sounds that mirrored and spoke of the defiance in the streets and townships of South Africa – gave impetus to the genre of music known as "Cape Jazz." "Mannenberg" came to be considered "the unofficial national anthem" of South Africa, and the theme tune of the anti-apartheid movement. Saxophonist and flautist Carlos Ward was Ibrahim's sideman in duets during the early 1980s. A few months after the release of "Mannenberg", South African police fired upon protesting children during the Soweto Uprising that began on 16 June 1976; this event led Ibrahim and Benjamin to publicly express support for the African National Congress, which was still banned at the time.
From 1983 Ibrahim led a group called Ekaya (which translates as "home"), as well as various trios, occasional big bands and other special projects.
Since the ending of apartheid, he has lived in Cape Town, and now divides his time between his global concert circuit, New York, and South Africa.
On 25 November 1989 he made an extended appearance in the British Channel 4 television discussion series After Dark alongside Zoe Wicomb, Donald Woods, Shula Marks and others. Ibrahim also took part in the 2002 documentary Amandla!: A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony, where he and others recalled the days of apartheid; the film's subtitle derives from observations made by Ibrahim.
Ibrahim appeared in a television documentary in Japan that aired on 26 June 2010, on NHK-BS. In the programme, he performed his compositions in several beautiful spots in South Africa, playing a piano set on the ground that resonated deeply with the natural surroundings.
Ibrahim has worked as a solo performer, typically in unbroken concerts that echo the unstoppable impetus of the old marabi performers, classical impressionists and snatches of his musical idols – Ellington, Thelonious Monk and Fats Waller. He also performs frequently with trios and quartets and larger orchestral units. Since his return to South Africa in the early 1990s, he has been feted with symphony orchestra performances, one of which was in honour of Nelson Mandela's 1994 inauguration as President. Mandela reportedly referred to him as "our Mozart".
Ibrahim continues to perform internationally, mainly in Europe, and with occasional shows in North America. Reviewing his 2008 concert at London's Barbican Centre – a "monumental" show with the BBC Big Band, featuring vocalists Ian Shaw and Cleveland Watkiss – John Fordham of The Guardian referred to "his elder-statesman status as the African Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk combined (and his role as an educator and political campaigner)".
In 2016, at Emperors Palace, Johannesburg, Ibrahim and Hugh Masekela performed together for the first time in 60 years, reuniting the Jazz Epistles in commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the historic 16 June 1976 youth demonstrations.
In 2009, the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, conferred on him an Honorary Doctorate of Music. Also in 2009, he was awarded South Africa's national honour the Order of Ikhamanga (Silver), "For his excellent contribution to the arts, putting South Africa on the international map and his fight against racism and apartheid."
An asterisk (*) indicates that the year is that of release.
|1960||Jazz Epistle Verse 1||Continental||As The Jazz Epistles; sextet, with Kippie Moeketsi (alto sax), Jonas Gwangwa (trombone), Hugh Masekela (trumpet), Johnny Gertze (bass), Makaya Ntshako (drums)|
|1960||Dollar Brand Plays Sphere Jazz||Continental||Trio, with Johnny Gertze (bass), Makaya Ntshoko (drums)|
|1963||Duke Ellington Presents the Dollar Brand Trio||Reprise||Trio, with Johnny Gertze (bass), Makaya Ntshoko (drums)|
|1965||Reflections||Black Lion||Solo piano; also released as This Is Dollar Brand|
|1965||Round Midnight at the Montmartre||Black Lion||Most tracks trio, with Johnny Gertze (bass), Makaya Ntshoko (drums); two tracks solo piano|
|1965||Anatomy of a South African Village||Black Lion||Trio, with Johnny Gertze (bass), Makaya Ntshoko (drums)|
|1965||Soweto||Chiaroscuro||Some tracks septet; some tracks quartet|
|1965*||Capetown Fringe||Chiaroscuro||Quintet, with Basil Coetzee (tenor sax), Robbie Jansen (alto sax), Paul Michaels (bass), Monty Weber (drums)|
|1968||Confluence||Freedom||With Gato Barbieri; released 1974; also released as Hamba Khale!|
|1969||African Sketchbook||Enja||Most tracks solo piano; one track solo flute|
|1969||African Piano[note 1]||JAPO||Solo piano; in concert; released 1973|
|1971||Dollar Brand Trio with Kippie Moketsi|
|1972||Ancient Africa||JAPO||Mostly solo piano; one part solo flute; in concert; released 1974|
|1973||African Portraits||Sackville||Solo piano|
|1973||African Space Program||Enja||With Hamiet Bluiett (baritone sax), Roland Alexander (tenor sax, harmonica), John Stubblefield (tenor sax), Sonny Fortune and Carlos Ward (alto sax, flute), Cecil Bridgewater, Enrico Rava and Charles Sullivan (trumpet), Kiani Zawadi (trombone), Cecil McBee (bass), Roy Brooks (percussion)|
|1973||Ode to Duke Ellington||West Wind||Solo piano|
|1973||Good News from Africa||Enja||Duo, with Johnny Dyani (bass, bells)|
|1973||Boswell Concert 1973||Colomba||With Bea Benjamin|
|1974||African Breeze||East Wind||Solo piano|
|1974||Underground in Africa|
|1974||Mannenberg – "Is Where It's Happening"|
|1976||Banyana – Children of Africa||Enja||Trio; with Cecil McBee (bass), Roy Brooks (drums); Ibrahim plays soprano sax and sings on one track|
|1976||Black Lightning||With Basil Manenberg (tenor sax), others|
|1977||The Journey||Chiaroscuro||With Don Cherry (trumpet), Carlos Ward (alto sax), Talib Rhynie (alto sax, oboe), Hamiet Blueitt (baritone sax, clarinet), Johnny Dyani (bass), Ed Blackwell and Roy Brooks (drums), John Betsch and Claude Jones (percussion)|
|1977||Streams of Consciousness||Duo, with Max Roach (drums)|
|1978||Anthem for the New Nations||Denon||Solo piano|
|1978||Duet||Denon||Duo, with Archie Shepp (tenor sax, alto sax, soprano sax)|
|1978||Autobiography||Plainisphare||Solo piano; in concert|
|1979||Echoes from Africa||Enja||Duo, with Johnny Dyani (bass)|
|1979||African Marketplace||Elektra||With 12-piece band|
|1979||Africa – Tears and Laughter||Enja||Quartet, with Talib Qadr (alto sax, soprano sax), Greg Brown (bass), John Betsch (drums); Ibrahim is also on vocals and soprano sax|
|1980||Dollar Brand at Montreux||Enja||Quintet, with Carlos Ward (alto sax, flute), Craig Harris (trombone), Alonzo Gardener (electric bass), André Strobert (drums); in concert|
|1980||Matsidiso||Pläne||Solo piano; in concert|
|1980||South Africa Sunshine||Pläne||Solo piano; Ibrahim adds vocals on some tracks; in concert|
|1981||Duke's Memories||Black & Blue||Quartet, with Carlos Ward (alto sax, flute), Rachim Ausur Sahu (bass), Andre Strobert (drums)|
|1982||African Dawn||Enja||Solo piano|
|1982||Jazzbühne Berlin '82||Repertoire||Solo piano; in concert|
|1983||Ekaya||Septet, with Charles Davis (baritone sax), Ricky Ford (tenor sax), Carlos Ward (alto sax), Dick Griffin (trombone), Cecil McBee bass), Ben Riley (drums)|
|1983||Zimbabwe||Enja||Quartet, with Carlos Ward (alto sax, flute), Essiet Okun Essiet (bass), Don Mumford (drums); Ibrahim also plays soprano sax|
|1985||Water from an Ancient Well||Tiptoe||Septet, with Carlos Ward (alto sax, flute), Dick Griffin (trombone), Ricky Ford (tenor sax), Charles Davis (baritone sax), David Williams (bass), Ben Riley (drums)|
|1986||South Africa||With Carlos Ward (alto sax), Essiet Okun Essiet (bass), Don Mumford (drums), Johnny Classens (vocals); in concert|
|1988||Mindif||Enja||Recorded for the soundtrack to the film Chocolat|
|1989||African River||Enja||With John Stubblefield (tenor sax, flute), Horace Alexander Young (alto sax, soprano sax, piccolo), Howard Johnson (tuba, baritone sax, trumpet), Robin Eubanks (trombone), Buster Williams (bass), Brian Abrahams (drums)|
|1990||No Fear, No Die||Film soundtrack|
|1991||Mantra Mode||Septet, with Robbie Jansen (alto sax, baritone sax, flute), Basil Coetzee (tenor sax), Johnny Mekoa (trumpet), Errol Dyers (guitar), Spencer Mbadu (bass), Monty Webber (drums)|
|1991||Desert Flowers||Solo piano|
|1993||Knysna Blue||Tiptoe||Solo piano and other instruments|
|1995||Yarona||Tiptoe||Trio, with Marcus McLaurine (bass), George Johnson (drums)|
|1996||Cape Town Flowers||Tiptoe||Trio, with Marcus McLaurine (bass), George Gray (drums)|
|1997||Cape Town Revisited||Tiptoe/Enja||Quartet, with Feya Faku (trumpet), Marcus McLaurine (bass), George Gray (drums)|
|1997||African Suite||With Belden Bullock (bass), George Gray (drums), strings|
|1998||African Symphony||With orchestra|
|1998||Township One More Time||Septet|
|1998||Voice of Africa|
|2000||Ekapa Lodumo||Tiptoe||With the NDR Big Band; in concert|
|2001||African Magic||Enja||Trio, with Belden Bullock (bass), Sipho Kunene (drums); in concert|
|2008||Bombella||Sunnyside||With the WDR Big Band; in concert|
|2010||Sotho Blue||Sunnyside||With Jason Marshall (baritone sax), Keith Loftis (tenor sax), Cleave Guyton (alto sax, flute), Andrae Murchison (trombone), Belden Bullock (bass), George Gray (drums)|
|2012–13||Mukashi: Once Upon a Time||Sunnyside||Quartet, with Cleave Guyton (saxophone, flute, clarinet), Eugen Bazijan and Scott Roller (cello); Ibrahim is also on vocals and flute|
|2014||The Song Is My Story||Intuition/Sunnyside||Most tracks solo piano; two tracks saxophone|
|1973||African Piano||Sackville||Solo piano; two tracks from Sangoma; one from African Portraits; this is a different album from the 1969 recording of the same name|
|1973||Fats, Duke and the Monk||Sackville||Solo piano; one track from Sangoma; one track from African Portraits; one track previously unissued|
|1983–85||The Mountain||Septets; complies tracks from Ekaya and Water from an Ancient Well|
|1988*||Blues for a Hip King|
|1973–97||A Celebration||Enja||Released 2005|
|Re:Brahim: Abdullah Ibrahim Remixed||Enja||Remixes of Ibrahim performances; released 2005|
|1966||Jones, ElvinElvin Jones||Midnight Walk||Atlantic|
|1976||Benjamin, Sathima BeaSathima Bea Benjamin||African Songbird|
|1977||Tate, BuddyBuddy Tate||Buddy Tate Meets Dollar Brand||Chiaroscuro|
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Abdullah Ibrahim.|
- Official website
- Maya Jaggi, "The Guardian Profile: Abdullah Ibrahim – The sound of freedom", The Guardian, 8 December 2001.
- "Abdullah Ibrahim", 100 Jazz Profiles, BBC.
- Abdullah Ibrahim page, Africa is a Country.
- Philippa Kennedy, "Key note speaker", The National, 16 November 2008.
- Diaa Bekheet, "Abdullah Ibrahim, 'King of Jazz' in South Africa", Voice of America, 26 May 2012.
- Nusra Khan, "Abdullah Ibrahim and the Politics of Jazz in South Africa", South African History Online, 18 December 2014, updated 20 October 2016.
- Kevin Whitehead, "Pianist Abdullah Ibrahim Proves Himself A One-Man Movement On 'Ancient Africa'", NPR Music, 10 May 2017.