Abdullah Ibrahim

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Abdullah Ibrahim
Abdullah Ibrahim 06N4688.jpg
Ibrahim performing at the 2011 Moers Festival
Background information
Birth name Adolph Johannes Brand
Also known as Dollar Brand
Born (1934-10-09) 9 October 1934 (age 82)
Cape Town, South Africa
Genres South African jazz, bebop, post-bop, folk
Occupation(s) Musician, composer, bandleader
Instruments Piano, saxophone, cello
Years active 1955–present
Associated acts Sathima Bea Benjamin, Jean Grae
Website abdullahibrahim.co.za

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 which became a notable anti-apartheid anthem.[1] 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.[2] He had a mixed racial heritage, making him a coloured person according to the South African government.[3] 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.[4] In 1959 and 1960, Ibrahim played with the Jazz Epistles in Sophiatown, alongside saxophonist Kippie Moeketsi, trumpeter Hugh Masekela, trombonist Jonas Gwangwa, bassist Johnny Gertze and drummer Makaya Ntshoko; in 1960, the group recorded the first jazz LP by Black South African musicians.[2][5] Ibrahim then joined the European tour of the musical King Kong.[citation needed] 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 Epistles broke up.[6]


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 on a European tour, to come to hear Ibrahim perform as "The Dollar Brand Trio" in Zurich's "Africana Club".[citation needed] After the show, Ellington helped set up a recording session with Reprise Records: Duke Ellington presents The Dollar Brand Trio.[5] 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[7] 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.[8] In 1967, a Rockefeller Foundation grant enabled him to study at the Juilliard School of Music in New York.[2] 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.[2] 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.[9]

Return to South Africa[edit]

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).[7] Ibrahim met Rashid Vally at the latter's record shop 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.[10] 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.[11] "Mannenberg" was recorded in June 1974 during one of Ibrahim's visits to South Africa, in a studio in Cape Town, and was produced by Rashid Vally.[12] The track was recorded during a period of collective improvisation.[13] The piece was inspired by the Cape Flats township where many of those forcibly removed from District Six were sent;[14]

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."[14][15] "Mannenberg" came to be considered "the unofficial national anthem" of South Africa, and the theme tune of the anti-apartheid movement.[16][17] 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; this event led Ibrahim and Benjamin to publicly express support for the African National Congress, which was still banned at the time.[18]

From 1983 Ibrahim led a group called Ekaya (which translates as "home"), as well as various trios, occasional big bands and other special projects.[19]

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.

Film work[edit]

Ibrahim has written the soundtracks for a number of films, including Chocolat (1988), and 1990's No Fear, No Die.[5]

In 1989 he made an extended appearance in the British television discussion series After Dark alongside Zoe Wicomb, Donald Woods, Shula Marks and others. He also took part in the 2002 documentary Amandla!: A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony, where he and others recalled the days of apartheid.


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.[14]

In 1997, Ibrahim collaborated on a tour with drummer Max Roach, and the following year undertook a world tour with the Munich Radio Philharmonic Orchestra.[20]

In 1999, he founded the "M7" academy for South African musicians in Cape Town[14] and was the initiator of the Cape Town Jazz Orchestra, an 18-piece big band launched in September 2006.[7][21][22] Ibrahim continues to perform internationally, mainly in Europe, and with occasional shows in North America.

Ibrahim appeared in a television documentary in Japan that aired on 26 June 2010, on NHK-BS. In the program, 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.[citation needed]


As leader/co-leader[edit]

  • 1960: Jazz Epistle Verse 1
  • 1964: Duke Ellington presents The Dollar Brand Trio
  • 1965: The Dream
  • 1965: Anatomy of a South African Village (Black Lion)
  • 1965: This is Dollar Brand (Black Lion)
  • 1965: Soweto
  • 1968: Confluence (Freedom, [1974]) with Gato Barbieri – also released as Hamba Khale!
  • 1969: African Sketchbook
  • 1969: African Piano
  • 1973: Good News from Africa
  • 1973: Memories (West 54 LP, West Wind CD)
  • 1973: African Space Program
  • 1973: Fats, Duke and the Monk
  • 1973: Ode to Duke Ellington
  • 1974: Ancient Africa
  • 1974: African Breeze (East Wind)
  • 1975: Confluence (with Gato Barbieri aka Hamba Kahle)
  • 1976: Banyana – Children of Africa
  • 1977: The Journey
  • 1977: Streams of Consciousness
  • 1978: Anthem for the New Nations
  • 1978: Duet with Archie Shepp
  • 1978: Autobiography
  • 1979: Echoes from Africa
  • 1979: African Marketplace
  • 1979: Africa Tears and Laughter
  • 1980: Dollar Brand at Montreux
  • 1982: African Dawn
  • 1983: Ekaya
  • 1983: Zimbabwe
  • 1985: Water from an Ancient Well
  • 1986: South Africa
  • 1988: Mindif
  • 1988: Blues for a Hip King
  • 1989: African River
  • 1989: The Mountain (selections from two earlier albums: Ekaya and Water From an Ancient Well)
  • 1990: No Fear, No Die Movie Soundtrack
  • 1991: Mantra Mode
  • 1992: Desert Flowers
  • 1993: Knysna Blue
  • 1994: African Sun
  • 1995: Yarona
  • 1997: Cape Town Flowers
  • 1998: Township One More Time
  • 1998: Voice Of Africa
  • 1998: African Suite
  • 2000: Cape Town Revisited
  • 2001: Ekapa Lodumo
  • 2002: African Magic
  • 2005: A Celebration
  • 2008: Senzo
  • 2009: Bombella
  • 2010: Sotho Blue (& Ekaya)
  • 2013: Mukashi: Once Upon a Time
  • 2014: The Song Is My Story

As sideman[edit]

With Elvin Jones

With Buddy Tate


  1. ^ Schumann, Anne (2008). "The Beat that Beat Apartheid: The Role of Music in the Resistance against Apartheid in South Africa" (PDF). Wiener Zeitschrift für kritische Afrikastudien. 14 (8): 26–30. Retrieved 24 October 2016. 
  2. ^ a b c d "Biography" Archived 4 November 2015 at the Wayback Machine., Abdullah Ibrahim official website.
  3. ^ Mason 2007, pp. 26–30.
  4. ^ Mason 2007, pp. 26–28.
  5. ^ a b c Carr, Ian; Fairweather, Digby; and Brian Priestley (3rd edn, 2004). The Rough Guide to Jazz, London: Rough Guides Ltd, pp. 385–87. ISBN 1-84353-256-5.
  6. ^ Mason 2007, pp. 27–29.
  7. ^ a b c "Ibrahim returns to Joburg", Johannesburg official website, 13 January 2012.
  8. ^ "Ibrahim, Abdullah (Dollar Brand) (South Africa)", music.org.za.
  9. ^ Mason 2007, pp. 29–30.
  10. ^ Mason 2007, pp. 32–35.
  11. ^ Mason 2007, pp. 34–35.
  12. ^ "Farewell to a musical legend". Sunday Tribune. 15 March 1998. 
  13. ^ Mason 2007, p. 35.
  14. ^ a b c d Maya Jaggi, "The sound of freedom", The Guardian, 8 December 2001; retrieved 13 August 2014.
  15. ^ Mason 2007, p. 25.
  16. ^ "Musical Interlude: Abdullah Ibrahim's Mannenberg (Is Where It's Happening)", Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal.
  17. ^ Andreas Schiendorfer, "Abdullah Ibrahim – Musician with Political Impact", Credit Suisse, 23 February 2010.
  18. ^ Muller 2004, p. 107.
  19. ^ "Abdullah Ibrahim", 100 Jazz profiles, BBC Radio 3.
  20. ^ Craig Harris, "Abdullah Ibrahim", AllMusic.
  21. ^ "Launch of the Cape Town Jazz Orchestra" Archived 15 October 2014 at the Wayback Machine., Department of Arts and Culture, Republic of South Africa, 23 August 2006.
  22. ^ Renée Belcher-Van der Berg, "Kaapstadse Jazzorkes skop belowend af" Archived 14 October 2014 at the Wayback Machine., Die Burger, 18 September 2006.


External links[edit]