Happy 75th birthday, Abdullah.
Although the number of musicians I favor is many, many, it is easy enough to sort out the echelon of those who deeply figure into my personal culture, into the brightest stars of my inner sound universe. Abdullah Ibrahim, for me the most important musician South Africa, (and Africa!) has produced, is at the top of this rarefied, personal list.
So are Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane and Duke Ellington and several others. But, then, I never could have gained the–with them–the chance to in effect sit right next to their artistry in real time. After Abdullah’s wife, the singer/songwriter, Sathima Bea Benjamin, provided the introduction in 1987, I came to just such a chance and gained also the experience of a lifetime. There’s lots I could report, but suffice to say, it all boils down to a point of contact for which his music provided the nexus, and his profound human being provided the praxis!
He’s been making his extraordinary music for over five decades. The web site I built to celebrate his artistry is inactive, yet its a treasure trove of my views about his music. Check it out. (Probably, I should move it over here. )
I would urge most anybody to dip into Ibrahim’s musical waters; waters from, as a title of a composition put it, an ancient well.
He’s made over 75 recordings. There are no clunkers and each one on their own way is for me essential. This noted, my answer were someone to ask me which five to start with, would be:
1. The Mountain (RCA Camden) reissues the lion’s share of two famous records of Ekaya from the 80’s
2. Zimbabwe (Enja) quartet session with Carlos Ward on reeds. A stirring set oriented to the star of John Coltrane.
3. African Dawn (Enja) solo piano jewels
4. African Magic (Enja) equal to other trio sessions recorded for Enja, this is for me the best example of his trio approach
5. Township One More Time (al-Shams) the first recording made in South Africa after his return. rare in the sense that you have to purchase it online from a South African vendor.
Then, after dealing with some of these, you’d be hooked and soon enough you’d be winding your way down the jacaranda road of immense riches. Ibrahim continues to record, tour, and educate and mentor musicians. His most recent record is a solo piano set, Senzo. It’s stellar.
If you get a chance to see Ibrahim perform, you should run and take it up. Sit close. Pay attention. Breath with intention. Enjoy.