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Abdullah Ibrahim

Abdullah Ibrahim
File: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 81)
Cape Town, South Africa
Genres South African jazz, bebop, post-bop, folk
Occupation(s) Pianist, composer, bandleader
Instruments Piano, saxophone, cello
Years active 1955–present
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 Cape jazz. Within jazz, his music particularly reflects the influence of Thelonious Monk and Duke Ellington. 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 Adolph Johannes Brand on 9 October 1934. He attended Trafalgar High School in District Six of Cape Town. He went on to study at Juilliard School of Music in New York.[1]

In 1959 and 1960, Ibrahim played alongside Kippie Moeketsi and Hugh Masekela with the Jazz Epistles in Sophiatown; in 1960, the group recorded the first jazz LP by Black South African musicians.[2] Ibrahim then joined the European tour of the musical King Kong.


Ibrahim moved to Europe in 1962. In February 1963, his wife-to-be, Sathima Bea Benjamin (they married in 1965),[3] convinced Duke Ellington, who was in Zürich on a European tour, to come to hear Ibrahim perform as "The Dollar Brand Trio" in St Gallen's "Africana Club". After the show, Ellington helped set up a recording session with Reprise Records: Duke Ellington presents The Dollar Brand Trio.[2] 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[4] 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.[5]

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);[4] however, he soon returned to New York in 1976, as he found the political conditions too oppressive. While in South Africa, however, he made a series of recordings with noted Cape Town players (including Basil Coetzee and Robbie Jansen). These recordings gave impetus to a new sound, Cape Jazz. These included "Mannenberg" (renamed "Capetown Fringe" in its US release), one of South Africa's popular musical compositions, inspired by the Cape Flats township where many of those forcibly removed from District Six were sent;[1] "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. "Mannenberg" came to be considered "the unofficial national anthem" of South Africa, and the theme tune of the anti-apartheid movement.[6][7] Saxophonist and flautist Carlos Ward was Ibrahim's sideman in duets during the early 1980s.

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

Ibrahim has written the soundtracks for a number of films, including Chocolat (1988), and 1990's No Fear, No Die.[2]

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.[1]

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.[8]

In 1999, he founded the "M7" academy for South African musicians in Cape Town[1] and was the initiator of the Cape Town Jazz Orchestra, an 18-piece big band launched in September 2006.[9][10][4] 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

  • 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 Records)
  • 1965: This is Dollar Brand (Black Lion)
  • 1965: Soweto
  • 1969: African Sketchbook
  • 1969: African Piano
  • 1973: Good News from Africa
  • 1973: Memories (West 54 Records LP, West Wind Records CD)
  • 1973: African Space Program
  • 1973: Fats, Duke and the Monk
  • 1973: Ode to Duke Ellington
  • 1974: Ancient Africa
  • 1974: African Breeze (East Wind Records)
  • 1975: Confluence (with Gato Barbieri aka Hamba Kahle)
  • 1976: Banyana – Children of Africa
  • 1977: The Journey
  • 1977: Streams of Consciousness
  • 1977: Buddy Tate Meets Dollar Brand (Chiaroscuro Records)
  • 1978: Anthem for the New Nations
  • 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
  • 1993: Knysna Blue
  • 1994: African Sun
  • 1995: Yarona
  • 1997: Cape Town Flowers
  • 1998: Township One More Time
  • 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

With Elvin Jones


  1. ^ a b c d Maya Jaggi, "The sound of freedom", The Guardian, 8 December 2001; retrieved 13 August 2014.
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ "Abdullah Ibrahim", Gale Musician Profiles.
  4. ^ a b c "Ibrahim returns to Joburg", Johannesburg official website, 13 January 2012.
  5. ^ "Ibrahim, Abdullah (Dollar Brand) (South Africa)",
  6. ^ "Musical Interlude: Abdullah Ibrahim's Mannenberg (Is Where It's Happening)", Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal.
  7. ^ Andreas Schiendorfer, "Abdullah Ibrahim – Musician with Political Impact", Credit Suisse, 23 February 2010.
  8. ^ Craig Harris, "Abdullah Ibrahim", AllMusic.
  9. ^ "Launch of the Cape Town Jazz Orchestra", Department of Arts and Culture, Republic of South Africa, 23 August 2006.
  10. ^ Renée Belcher-Van der Berg, "Kaapstadse Jazzorkes skop belowend af", Die Burger, 18 September 2006.

External links

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