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Abdullah Ibrahim (born 9 October 1934 in Cape Townmarker, South Africa), formerly known as Adolph Johannes Brand, and 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. 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.


He first received piano lessons at the age of seven, was an avid consumer of jazz records brought by American sailors, and was playing jazz professionally by 1949. In 1959 and 1960, he played alongside Kippie Moeketsi with The Jazz Epistles in Sophiatownmarker; the group recorded the first jazz LP by Black South African musicians in 1960. Ibrahim then joined the European tour of the musical King Kong.

He moved to Europe in 1962, and in February 1963, while Ibrahim was performing as “The Dollar Brand Trio” in Zürich's “Africana Club”, his wife-to-be Sathima Bea Benjamin convinced Duke Ellington to hear the trio while Ellington was in Zürich on a European tour. As a result, a recording session was set up with Reprise Records: Duke Ellington presents The Dollar Brand Trio. A second recording of the trio (also with Duke 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.

Since then Ibrahim has toured mainly in Europe, the United States, and in his home country, South Africa. Performances are mainly in concerts and clubs, mostly as a band, but sometimes playing solo piano. He mainly plays piano but also plays flute, saxophone, and cello; he mainly performs his own compositions, although he sometimes performs pieces composed by others.

He briefly returned to South Africa in the mid-1970s after his conversion to Islam (and the resultant change of name from Dollar Brand to Abdullah Ibrahim); 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 Jazz players (including Basil Coetzee and Robbie Jansen). This included Coetzee's masterpiece, "Mannenberg", acknowledged by most as one of South Africa's greatest musical compositions; the recording soon became an unofficial soundtrack to the anti-apartheid resistance. Saxophonist and flutist Carlos Ward was his sideman in acclaimed duets during the early eighties.

Abdullah Ibrahim has written the soundtracks for a number of films, including the award winning Chocolat and, more recently, No Fear, No Die. Since the end of apartheid, he has lived in Cape Town, and now divides his time between his global concert circuit, New York, and South Africa.

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 mesmerising unbroken concerts that echo the unstoppable impetus of the old marabi performers. He also performs regularly 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 inauguration as President. He has also founded the "M7" academy for South African musicians in Cape Town, and was the initiator of the Cape Town Jazz Orchestra, an 18-piece big band launched in September 2006.

Ibrahim continues to perform, mainly in Europe, and with occasional shows in North America.

See also




  • Afropop! An Illustrated Guide to Contemporary African Music by Sean Barlow & Banning Eyre. (Book Sales August 1995) ISBN 0785804439, ISBN 978-0785804437

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