One of the most charismatic performers in jazz today, South African pianist Abdullah Ibrahim has been at the forefront of the jazz scene for over fifty years.
'People don't like Abdullah Ibrahim, they adore him, bestowing on him the devotion normally reserved for Nina Simone. When he plays, melodies
tumble out effortlessly, as he slides from theme to theme like a laid-back South African reincarnation of Thelonious Monk.' (The Guardian)
Abdullah Ibrahim’s music has long tracked the turbulence of his South African homeland’s history, matching its past struggles and current optimism through music of great hope and deeply reflective soulfulness.
Nelson Mandela has referred to Abdullah Ibrahim as “South Africa’s Mozart,” and few would disagree. Born in 1934 in Cape Town, Abdullah Ibrahim’s journey to becoming a conduit of beautiful music began at the age of seven with formal piano lessons at his mother’s church.
As a young boy, his musical influences ranged from spiritual hymns, traditional African music, carnival and minstrel music, and of course American jazz, swing, and boogie woogie. He earned the nickname “Dollar” from American sailors for his spirited efforts to buy American LPs which could be found for one dollar. This nickname stuck and he would later earn renown as “Dollar Brand.”
Alongside Hugh Masekela, he performed and recorded with South Africa’s first premiere jazz group, the Jazz Epistles. In exile in Europe in 1963, destiny would call when Duke Ellington discovered him in a jazz cafe in Zurich, which led to the recording Duke Ellington presents the Dollar Brand Trio (Reprise). Following his mentor to New York where he would later convert to Islam, Abdullah Ibrahim would record prolifically and become one of the leading pianists, composers, and figures in modern jazz.
In the 1970s, his songs “Mannenberg” and “Soweto” would be embraced as anthems of protest against Aparthaid South Africa. In the 1980s he would form the septet Ekaya, which would become one of the few successful acoustic jazz groups of this era. The 1990s would see collaborations with big bands and classical string orchestras.