Untitled Compositions

"...compository sketches..." - S. Scott Franklin

Abdullah Ibrahim: South Africa’s Native Son

"In modern society, cultural diffusion is at the crux of personal development. As the world grows smaller, its people and their concepts become that much more intertwined. The growth of artist Abdullah Ibrahim speaks volumes to this anthropological phenomenon. What I believe to be considerably different about Ibrahim, however, is that he, unlike many, has managed to maintain a certain sense of self, whilst being introduced to an onslaught of external forces. His sound, influenced by many of the American greats, has always preserved a semblance of his roots – Cape Town, South Africa.

In the beginning, he was Adolph “Dollar” Band, the young jazz enthusiast who earned his nickname by procuring records from visiting American sailors. Even in his formative years, he had a connection to the distance land of North America. Helming the piano on the influential South African ensemble, the Jazz Epistles, the bebop motif explored by the group evoked an undeniable Western influenced sound. Drawing from the stylistic tendencies of a Thelonious Monk, Brand crafted a melodic delivery tied together with technical brilliance. Upon leaving South Africa, with his wife, famed vocalist Sathima Bea Benjamin, Brand was introduced to the great Duke Ellington. Admiring his abilities, Ellington offered Brand the opportunity to record with him resulting in a 1963 release on the American music label, Reprise Records. While his sound during this era reflected the American jazz artistry of the time, Brand never shied away from his origins. With titles such as Anatomy of a South African Village and African Piano, it was very much understood that Brand was indeed proud of his heritage.

A change was on the horizon, however, that would drastically redirect the trajectory of his entire life. In the mid-1970s, Brand like many other artists of the time converted to Islam. From thereon, Brand was officially known as Abdullah Ibrahim, actualizing a momentous juncture in his evolution. Following this path, his sound and its subsequent politics began to develop, as well. Where I’ve found Ibrahim to be most effective, are in those moments during which he sits alone, a concept defining much of this era in his career. Both pensive and demonstrative, his work seems to find its greatest clarity, when it is just him and his piano. As Abdullah Ibrahim, he has an extensive repertoire of sounds that seem to be American in style, and yet through the subject matter laid out, presents a subtle homage to his native land. With a languorous drawl, he manages to carefully reflect on the temperamental nature of South African politics. Often void of lyrical content, Ibrahim was able to encapsulate the contrasting aesthetic grandeur of Cape Town to the sordid reality of apartheid…”

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For The Revivalist