Artist Profiles: Abdullah Ibrahim

Abdullah Ibrahim

Some knew him as Dollar Brand, others by his adopted moniker of Abdullah Ibrahim, which he began using in the late 1960s after his conversion to Islam. Either way, the piano styling of this remarkable South African musician have made their indelible mark in both the jazz and world genres for over half a century.

Ibrahim was born Adolphe Johannes Brand in Capetown in 1934, and quickly nicknamed Dollar. Learning the piano from the age of 7, he honed his early talent in the church. By the late 1940s he was already playing with local jazz big bands.

In the early 1960s alongside trumpeter Hugh Masekela, saxophonist Kippie Moeketsi, and trombonist Jonas Gwangwa, he was a central figure in South Africa’s own progressive jazz movement which took its lead from the New York-based sounds being articulated at the time by John Coltrane and Thelonius Monk among others. His Jazz Epistles group, which included Masekela and Gwangwa, broke new musical ground, with a distinctive African influence added to the jazz improvisation.

He left South Africa in 1962 due to the worsening political situation and, in a now-legendary meeting, his new Dollar Brand Trio was discovered by Duke Ellington while playing in Zurich, Switzerland club. Ellington quickly arranged a recording session with Reprise Records, and the Trio began playing the major American and European jazz festivals to enthusiastic acclaim. Brand/Ibrahim’s powerful tonal clusters, repeating African melodies, and creative improvisations were to become his trademarks.

He returned briefly to South Africa in the mid-1970s, but found the conditions so oppressive that he went back into exile in New York. He finally returned to live in Capetown in 1990.

His discography as both a leader and sideman lists well over a hundred album credits, including African Space Program, Ekaya, Tintinyana and Black Lightning. He composed the award-winning soundtrack for the 1988 French/African film Chocolat. Other releases include Cape Town Revisited, Ancient Africa, Celebration, and Township One More Time.

Author: Angel Romero

Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several TV specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World.
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