Arts | Performing Arts | Music
An Evening with Abdullah Ibrahim & Ekaya
1300 SE Stark St.
Feb. 21, 2018, 8 p.m.
The world and Africa, in particular, have changed since the founding of pianist/composer Abdullah Ibrahim’s Ekaya ensemble in 1983. The septet, whose name means “home,” presented Ibrahim’s most powerful musical statements during an important time of protest against Apartheid in his native South Africa. Founded in 1983, Ekaya enjoyed an enduring and celebrated bi-annual residence at New York’s famed Sweet Basil for nearly two decades. The “Voice of Africa” has an imposing discography that transcends the cosmopolitan and spiritual musical connections between South Africa and New York City.
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 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.”
He was a founding member of South Africa’s first premiere jazz group, the Jazz Epistles. In exile in 1963 Europe, destiny would call when Duke Ellington discovered Ibrahim in a jazz café 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 Apartheid 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. A documentary film, A Struggle for Love, about Abdullah Ibrahim’s life journey was made in 2004. His three previous recordings, Sotho Blue (Sunnyside) and Mukashi (Sunnyside), The Song Is My Story (Sunnyside) demonstrates Abdullah Ibrahim at his most serene.
Abdullah Ibrahim’s tours of North America in 2015 and 2016 were an overwhelming success and in 2018 and 2019, he plans an extensive International tour with his celebrated Septet Ekaya.
“…his voice—so carved from the blood and gemstone of African earth—that comparing his tone and manner to anyone living or dead is really impossible.”
-All About Jazz
“A calm, steady heartbeat nourishes his music, fulfilling a meditative urge.”
-The New York Times