South Africa’s most distinguished pianist, Abdullah Ibrahim, will present two solo piano concerts at the Artscape Theatre on October 13 and 14. The programme will showcase Ibrahim’s compositions spanning the past seventy years, influenced by people, places and events that have impacted his life and career.
Ibrahim is a world-respected master musician, was born in 1934 in Cape Town and baptized Adolph Johannes Brand. His early musical memories were of traditional African Khoi-san songs and the Christian hymns, gospel tunes and spirituals that he heard from his grandmother, who was pianist for the local African Methodist Episcopalian church, and his mother, who led the choir. The Cape Town of his childhood was a melting-pot of cultural influences, and the young Dollar Brand, as he became known, was exposed to American jazz, township jive, CapeMalay music, as well as to classical music. Out of this blend of the secular and the religious, the traditional and the modern, developed the distinctive style, harmonies and musical vocabulary that are inimitably his own.
After the notorious Sharpeville massacre of 1960, mixed-race bands and audiences were defying the increasingly strict apartheid laws, and jazz symbolized resistance, so the government closed a number of clubs and harassed the musicians. Some members of the Jazz Epistles went to England with the musical ‘King Kong’ and stayed in exile. These were difficult times in which to sustain musical development in South Africa. In 1962, with Nelson Mandela imprisoned and the ANC banned, Dollar Brand and Sathima Bea Benjamin left the country.
In 1990 Mandela, freed from prison, invited him to come home to South Africa. The fraught emotions of reacclimatizing were reflected in ‘Mantra Modes’ (1991), the first recording with South African musicians since 1976, and in ‘Knysna Blue’ (1993). He memorably performed at Mandela’s inauguration in 1994. For more than a quarter-century he has toured the world extensively, appearing at major concert halls, clubs and festivals, giving sell-out performances – as solo artist, or with other renowned artists (notably, Max Roach, Carlos Ward and Randy Weston). His collaborations with classical orchestras have resulted in acclaimed recordings, such as ‘African Suite’ (1999, with members of the European Union Youth Orchestra) and the Munich Radio Philharmonic orchestra symphonic version, ‘African Symphony’ (2001), which also featured the trio and the NDR Jazz Big Band.
“Esteemed pianist and composer Prof Abdullah Ibrahim’s contribution to the South African cultural landscape and jazz music, both locally and internationally, is undeniable. By bridging African and jazz traditions in his compositions, Ibrahim takes one on a musical journey through time and history. He continues to play an important part in our musical heritage and his compositions has inspired many other jazz musicians, as well as millennials,” says Rowlin Naicker from SonyATV.
His seventieth birthday in October 2004 was marked by the release of two CDs by Enja Records (the Munich-based label with whom he has recorded for three decades): the compilation ‘A Celebration’, and ‘Re:Brahim’, his music remixed. His discography runs to well over a hundred album credits.
When not touring, Abdullah Ibrahim divides his time between Cape Town and New York. Abdullah Ibrahim is the recipient of many awards and honorary doctorates and remains at his zenith as a musician and a tireless initiator of new projects. His two Cape Town concerts will be a musical collage that transcends category, combining the intimate and the universal.
* Tickets cost from R300 to R375 via Artscape on 021 421 7695; or at Computicket.