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Abdullah Ibrahim

When Abdullah Ibrahim turned seventy years of age he was at his music school M7 in District Six. On entering the interview I felt at once comfortable and removed my shoes. He looked at me with daggers in his eyes and he took the issue up at once interrogating me as if I were a terrorist. He figured I did not have the necessary permissions to be present in his company and demanded I leave and reschedule my appointment with him. I returned the following day and kept my shoes on. BBC were present in the interview. He was charm itself and requested I email the article for his records. On receiving my email he took spite against me and had my article pulled from the magazine. I had seen this character trait with Abdullah before. Some of the white musicians have sugested it to be racism. I saw it at an open workshop where he pulled his brief energised vibration gimmick. A tiny kid shocked by this man shaking with such pride asked his mum, "If this were God." Mum laughed. As they were in the front row Abdullah wanted to know what this was all about. When mom told him, Abdullah began to speak scolding words to mother and child with his intellect. They both burst into tears and left the workshop.

Andullah Ibrahim is a man who cast aside his born identity Dollar Brand and converted to a 'higher faith.' He is not himself. This we know for a fact.


”Why are you so afraid of silence? Silence is the route of everything:” He triumphantly announces RUMI, the author's name, with the confidence of Mohammed Ali chanting through the streets of Congo. “If you want to be strong your whole life you cultivate yo ur spirit.” He repeats this again laughing as it is the truth. It has been an extraordinary life that has taken him to this point. ”We resolve conflict that is what we do. Philosophy is built on the conflict between pre-destination and free will.” He continues the thought. ”If you are in the creative field you must learn the art of war,” he says. In his hand he is holding a brand n ew version of Sun Tzu's novel.


”Give us hope Cape Town.” Abdullah said this quite by chance. A lucid rhyme muttered amongst waves of unexpressed thoughts. ”I know a Mrs January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August: September, yes I know a Mrs October, November and December,” he says in a brief discourse into slavery. In fact according to Abdullah the first slave was from Japan and she was buried on the mountain.

Table Mountain holds a record of everything. It is unmoving. In Cape Town the mountain is the centre around which people once settled and lived. The mountain is the symbol of strength that has always remained. The mountain is where the masters' temple is situated. The mountain is a place of respect. Abdullah has been studying martial arts in Japan for thirty-seven years. This is a lifestyle for him. His movements are graceful, his instructions minimal and he demands respect at all times. “I am a Senshei,” he says with bowed head. Abdullah Ibrahim gave us a demonstration of how he could vibrate his body internally with his intention.

It was awesome, like his seemingly endless rhythmical piano playing on the collaborations with Johnny Dyani. Abdullah is a musical father to many. He is unwavouring in his sense of honour, discipline and personal truth. He does not suffer fools. His musical compositions will certainly live forever and inspire generation after generation.

M3 - MUSE :

In 1956 Abdullah wrote the song 'Eclipse at Dawn,' dreaming about it from his District Six backyard. Quite miraculously it was forty years later that he woke one morning to say his daily prayers and witness the moon actually eclipsed by the rising sun. This was a premonition that must sit amongst many! Abdullah has written 2000 songs and released 250 albums.

This music has come from everywhere, like springs to a river's source. The music has been performed all over the world in the most distinguished company on the most important grand pianos. It is the music of the muse, it is the smile from the heart, the inner child and the collective voice.

One of the only men he has been upstaged by is the former president Mandela who walked in on his 'return from exile performance' at the great hall in Wits. “I played something,” Abdullah says with a glaring pause, “and I tried to play it again, but I couldn't.” It appears as though the music had been graciously inspired by the unknown entrance of the president.


“Kippie Mo e ketsi is the embodiment,” Abdullah says with a striking respect and love. ”We owe everything to Kippie.” Kippie is a great South African saxophone dignity. Abdullah met him in the 1950's at a time when Sophiatown in Johannesburg and District Six were buzzing. These were twenty four hour creative districts, full of style, action and jazz music. Kippie was a driving force in the musical expression of these times. “He who gave us everything we know,” says Abdullah of him.

They became friends and partners in one of South Africa's first all-star bands, The Jazz Epistles formed in 1959. It was the Dollar Brand trio of Johnny Gertze and Makaya Ntshoko with Kippie Moeketsi, Jonas Gwangwa and Hugh Masekela.

At a recent seminar Abdullah said, “The devil lives on the stage. This is where the ego comes out.”

The ego was inevitably released during his work with the Jazz Epistles. The Jazz Epistles only lasted a year before the musicians all went in completely different directions.

Kippie died not well off and with a hat going round to pay for the funeral. Dollar lived, but Dollar changed. ”We are angry, we are angry.” Abdullah repeats himself and looks away as he talks about this fact. .


In 1968 he converted to Islam and received the 'honoured name' Abdullah Ibrahim. And in 1970 he took his pilgrimage to Mecca.

Abdullah was in martial training in Copenhagen when certain calligraphic images arrived in the shape of an epiphany. He transcribed them to paper and took them to the Chinese restaurant for translation. The Japanese restaurant owner did a strange kata for a content creature however no concrete definition arrived to this sign. It was two years later when his master, Tone Gawa, called from Japan to say he had discovered the meaning as 'great monkey.' Abdullah laughs aloud as he tells the story of how his new identity was formulated.

AI, the initials, is the vowel sound for love in Japanese. It is a hard sound, unlike the soft Ohm vowel sound for love in India and parts of Africa. Perhaps here lies the notorious discipline of the ways of Abdullah Ibrahim.

The conversion of Adolfus Brand to Abdullah Ibrahim and his pilgrimage to Mecca was a major part of his life and spiritual journey. One thinks of Mohammed Ali (Casius Clay) and Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens) whose conversions to Islam were a paramount expression of their unique faith and a necessary part of their global success.

Yusuf Islam (once Cat Stevens) said at the 46664: “We need to concentrate on the simple relationships of love in the family structure. And grow from there”


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Dollar exiled to America with his wife Sathima Bea Benjamin to return to Cape Town again only in the ‘70's for the landmark Sun recording sessions. It took seven years but when they had finished that, they had captured the voice of a people aspiring for change and marked a sensational period in the uprising of this nation. The record cover quotes Abdullah as saying, “Rashid, are you happy with that?” Rashid Valley was Abdullah's non-playing partner in recording this album. It was an ironic quote because ‘Mannenberg is where it's happening,' captured in the key of F with the reflective colours of the times, was an anthem. Basil ‘Mannenberg' Coetzee is the late great South African saxophone player who together with the Robbie Jansen brought the piece alive with rousing performances.

‘ Mannenberg is where it is at,' the composition created the platform for dialogue that lead to the miracle peaceful transformation South Africa experienced in 1994. Mannenberg is a platform beyond any restraint imaginable. It is absolutely free.

This was the intention of the composer. With Mannenberg he planned to speak to the people'. He did this and dramatically so! This musical intention is still being shared. This is a composition that reaches out to all ! This song is a meeting place for new musicians to feel at home amongst elder musicians. In the original recording of Mannenberg the young musician to rise up, the man from Mannenberg was Basil Coetzee. The platform that Mannenberg gives to young musicians will exist forever.

Mac Mckenzie, composer of Cape Town, describes Abdullah as the 'goema king.' Abdullah wears a crown on the cover photo of his discography (edited by Lars Rasmussen).

Cape Town has an island style. It is called Goema. At some stage it was probably a khoisan thing, named after the ‘goem' and the 'gaai'; the drum and the fire; the wind; the 'this' and 'that'; of the mountain and the people. At some stage it got creolized with the continual movement of people in and out of the port. At some stage it got pigeonholed with the annual marching carnival. Goema is like the individual, to the family, the community, to the world. It is music but moreover it is a dynamic style and philosophy of people. It is a universal expression.

When I asked him if he were a goema king, he said, “I am goema,” and dismissed the topic, “If you want to find goema go play with the carnivals,” shaking his head he mutters, “It's a brand, it's a brand.”

“My daddy is a rapper.” This is what Abdullah's daughter, a hip hop star in America who goes by the name, 'Jean Gray' said in an interview. Abdullah likes the comparison. He is a rapper too.


“Hsin is desire; Yi is intention; Li is movement; Chi is Energy; Jing is power.” These are the words on the opening page of his examination book, neatly transcribed and highlighted in yellow. “Intention,” he says ”is as good as prayer.” BBC radio is sitting with me in the interview. Intention informs beauty, harmony, health, well-being and everything else, good, bad, or otherwise. With intention we can enjoy a world of our choosing.

Abdullah asks them to turn off the recorder as he has a funny story he would like to relate. He shifts his chair closer and opens his eyes wide offering a thoughtless glare: ”Meditation,” he says ”that distant state, is like a dog taking a shit.”

“This musical heritage has been created through the inspiration and aspirations of thousands of South Africans driven to create beauty, harmony and self-expression.” Abdullah Ibrahim

If you follow the direct line of the setting sun as it moves from the lion's head, down the kloof, through the eye of the mosque and across the windswept plains of District Six; it will settle at an isolated sandwich block of flats next to a parking lot with a single sunflower growing there. It is here at the back of these flats in a large hall (quite reminiscent of famous '50's jazz venues like the Wiseman Hall in Sea Point) that Abdullah Ibrahim has set up the M7 school.

“M7 was founded on the premise that exceptional musicians are merely a creative extension of exception human beings.”

M7 is the embodiment of his experiences and learning. This vision has taken some years to build and quite some effort. People have died for these successes. M7 is a multi-disciplinary approach to life, centred around music. M7 is a trust with tremendous trustees and a powerful vision to take the cultural expression of indigenous music to the rest of the world. Abdullah is upbeat about the potential successes that await this initiative. He is planning on building an extensive Music, Martial Arts, Medicine complex for Cape Town. And this project is gathering speed. On the lightly blue painted walls of this venue are old black and white photos of many great musicians that have passed. The grand piano is playing and the venue is filled with a welcoming warmth. ”We are very pleased with ourselves,” Abdullah says smiling to his assistant. He is elegantly reclined in his office chair, dressed splendidly in a deep blue cotton suit preparing grand quotes to spark the inspiration and scribe on the wall.


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