A Talk With Abdullah Ibrahim [Part 2]

A Talk With Abdullah Ibrahim [Part 2]

by Default                              Posted: 2014/03/04

We spoke to the legendary composer about changing himself, writing his first song at age 10, and The International Jazz Police.

Click here to read Part 1 of our interview with legendary pianist Abdullah Ibrahim.

JHBLive: I was recently listening to your song "Third Line Samba" and it got me wondering about the links that you find between South African and South American music? 

AI: 'Third Line Samba' is one of the movements of an extended work, 'From Cape Town to Congo Square'.

Congo Square was a place in New Orleans where the slaves were allowed to gather on their 'off-day'. Cape Town and New Orleans have deep cultural and historic ties dating back to the 17th Century.

JHBLive: In addition to being a musician you also hold a black belt and teacher qualification in Martial Arts. What similarities do you find, if any, in the practice of music and Martial Arts?

AI: Martial Arts is possibly a connotation in error. The Japanese term and concept is Budo - the art of not fighting!

The inherent principle in Budo is the universal acceptance of the majesty and awe of nature - sky, trees, river, mountains, sea, birds - and how through the practice of Budo we can attain and maintain this harmony.

Oom Petrus Vaalbooi, the Bushman elder in the Kalahari and our illustrious poet, Rumi, speak in the same voice and concept: 'There is only one sound, everything else is echo.'

JHBLive: The Album "Mannenberg - Is Where It's Happening" was an ode to the destruction of District 6 in Cape Town. It also holds a place in history as a landmark commercial success in the South African jazz genre. What do you remember about the session that gave birth to this album?

AI: When we recorded 'Mannenberg', one take, 17 minutes, we had no idea of what impact it would have. Positive and negative.

It was affirmation of our very being and unique experience.

I had been playing this genre of music with dance bands since a teenager.

But some South African jazz musicians and people in certain sectors were somewhat reluctant to engage in the genre. It was considered decadent music from a decadent rural society.

Basil Coetzee was the first one who accepted my challenge and we all spent years developing and perfecting contemporary improvisation commensurate with the format. There were hardly any points of improvisational references.

Commercial success always has its pitfalls. 

Many people claimed to have composed 'Manneberg' - which is not something new for me. Sixty years after I wrote my first song at the age of ten nothing has changed. The claims still persist on several other of my compositions.

At present I have over 400 compositions registered in my own publishing company.

Last year... my international team initiated aggressive legal action against at least seven South African entities for gross copyright and royalty infringement and violation resulting in substantial fees being paid for damages and legal fees.

JHBLive: The music that you create with your band Ekaya seems to be influenced by the big band tradition of luminaries like Duke Ellington. Which other big band leaders have influenced your arrangements?

AI: Ekaya Septet is the traditional 'combo' concept - between Solo, Trio and Big Band.

My first gig as a teenager in Cape Town was with the Tuxedo Slickers Big Band. We played marabi, mbaqanga, chips, American composers, Joe Liggins, Erskine Hawkins, Ellington.

JHBLive: One of the projects you have been involved in is a compilation of your compositions called "African Songs". Tell us a bit more about it?

AI: African Songs is a songbook of original compositions hopefully a document that can assist young pianists to find their own way and voice.

JHBLive: Apparently you have been involved in several plans that help facilitate the growth of young South African musician. What are some of the ideals or techniques that you hope to pass down to the youth? 

AI: The March Tour is funded by The Department of Arts and Culture.

Concert in Johannesburg and Concerts and Auditions for Young Musicians between 13 and 21 in Bloemfontein, Durban and Cape Town.
We create a National Band with guidance and skills transmission from my Ekaya New York Musicians. There are somethings that you cannot learn in school.

And TCB - take care of business - Contracts, Royalties, Intellectual Properties.

The legendary Abdullah Ibrahim and his US-band Ekaya, will be entertaining jazz fans in Johannesburg and Bloemfontein on the 20th and 22nd March 2014 respectively. Jazz lovers can expect a performance of most loved compositions by the Maestro and Ekaya.

Concert Details:

20 March 2014, at 8pm, at the Lyric Theatre, Gold Reef City, Johannesburg;

22 March 2014, at 8pm, at the Wynand Mouton Theatre, University of Free State, Bloemfontein. 

Don't miss a night of unforgettable music from Jazz greats Abdullah Ibrahim and Ekaya, so book your tickets now at
We spoke to the legendary composer about changing himself, writing his first song at age 10, and The International Jazz Police.


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