Africa In the House

South African House Music is groovy like house music is meant to be, and, bonus, it’s African. This adds lots of spice and great singing to the mix. Hear for yourself.

Even more ingratiating and upbeat is this long medley of African gospel music videos. These strike me as wonderfully optimistic in the age of Trump, and a growing dark movement of ignorance in the USA.

Abdullah Ibrahim Gems on Youtube

Ekaya 2014
Abdullah Ibrahim & Ekaya (2014)

Here’s a selection of some of the best Abdullah Ibrahim youtube videos. If you’re reading this, I hope you take 60 minutes of your valuable time to give a listen to the artistry of Dr. Ibrahim. For people who happen to be especially sensitive to, and receptive of, the sound the human spirit makes when it is channeling extrapolations of the eternal mysterious formulas, remember the insight of Inayat Khan,

There is nothing in this world which does not speak. Every thing and every being is continually calling out its nature, its character, its secret; the more the inner sense is open, the more capable it becomes of hearing the voice of all things. What we call music in our everyday language is only a miniature, which our intelligence has grasped from that music or harmony of the whole universe which is working behind everything, and which is the source and origin of nature. It is because of this that the wise of all ages have considered music to be a sacred art. For in music the seer can see the picture of the whole universe; and the wise can interpret the secret and the nature of the working of the whole universe in the realm of music. (Inayat Khan)


Torino Jazz Festival 2013
28 April 2013

Jazz Piano Festival, Kalisz, Poland
December 9, 1984

Abdullah Ibrahim (piano)
Carlos Ward (alto sax, flute)


Full concert set featuring Ekaya, from 2011
*horrifying ad to skip over at beginning*

1968 NDR-Hamburg (G), Abdullah Ibrahim (p) John Tchicai, Gato Barbieri (reeds) Barre Phillips (b) Makaya Ntshoko (d): Jabolani (= “Joy”) (poster) I guess there is no other known earlier TV-clip from Abdullah Ibrahim than this 1968 clip and wonder why it isn´t already uploaded. Same to be said about the following clips of general interest from Michael Naura´s German Jazz-TV series in the early 1980s.

Wow!

bonus: half of African Piano, Sackville

Circling the Mountain

Mountain-1
(1999) Biography I am a mountain. You call, I echo.
(“Mountain” is both source and metaphor for the sacred message given to people from the heights of cosmic creativity.)

Perhaps the most gifted African musician working within the fused ancestral streams of African+American music, Abdullah Ibrahim, formerly known as Dollar Brand, is a pianist, composer, arranger, band leader and teacher. He is among the preeminent proponents of music as a healing and transformative tool. He has brought to bear upon his music influences from the artistic royalty of American Jazz and African musics. The thrust of his gifts is an expression of this lineage. His creative intention has been secured through his deep Faith. Abdullah Ibrahim’s understanding of the far-reaching roots of the healing traditions of both music and people’s art is comprehensive.

Many who have encountered Abdullah Ibrahim would also call him a teacher…including many of those who make up his worldwide audience. There is no escaping the transformative power of his music should one approach it with receptivity. In this respect he is both teacher and student, standing as exemplar within the chain of transmission which posits that every person is being inexorably drawn home and is capable of both openness and activation, of being taught and teaching, of following the path and leading others along it.

Born in 1934 and raised in Cape Town, the young Adolphes Johannos Brand was fortunate: his family owned a piano, and, his mother led the choir while his grandmother was the pianist for the local A.M.E. Church. Very early on her hymns and spirituals made an impression on the young Brand, who began learning piano at the age of seven. At some point he was exposed to Meade Lux Lewis and Fats Waller. Later in the forties he first heard the jumping Jazz of Erskine Hawkins, Tiny Bradshaw, Louis Jordan and other American musicians whose 78rpm discs were available for mere ‘dollars’ from the sailors and seamen put in at the great international port.

“We played a lot of boogie woogie back then. It had structure very similar to our native songs. We never regarded the music as foreign; it was just the music of our brothers and sisters in another part of the world. And in our corner there were great piano players: they didn’t play Jazz however; they played tradition…pure African Tradition.”

His musical awareness became enriched by the musical melting pot of the seaport. In Cape Town traditional African tribal musics, Cape Malay songs, hymns, carnival and street music, British low-popular, music of the local communities of Chinese, Indian, and Muslims, ‘Shabeen’ (speak easy,) dance music (called marabi and kwela,) American pop, rhythm and blues, and Jazz were integral to the local musical culture.

While in high school he gained professional experience as the leader of various dance combos. Afterword ‘Dollar’ Brand knocked about the Cape Town music scene and continued to soak up influences. He began his local career as a vocalist with the Streamline Brothers, then as a pianist first with the Tuxedo Slickers, next with Willie Max.

In 1959 he joined forces with the legendary alto saxophonist Kippie Moketsi, and along with trumpeter Hugh Masekela, formed The Jazz Epistles, melding dance music with Jazz. This radical fusion of swinging Jazz and ‘Shabeen’ dance music took Cape Town by storm. More importantly, Brand fell under the defining influence of the worldly Moketsi who filled his ears with the sounds of more Jazz royalty: Parker, Gillespie, and Monk. Kippie Moketsi’s insistence on the dignity of the music and music-making fathered Dollar Brand’s reapplication to the music, a seriousness of purpose which sustains his music to this day.

Commenting after Moketsi passed away in 1983, “Kippie’s life was not wasted! How could it be when it was Kippie who gave us everything we know? We have just built on from what he has taught us.”

Life for professional musicians was not made easy by apartheid. Because music performances required the separate groups to congregate with only their own ‘category’ and because any race mixing was illegal, the authorities made it difficult to produce even small size public concerts. The barriers erected by the ‘state’ to prevent the local musicians from building an audience were severe and effective. The only avenues for establishing a career were to play the ‘white’ nightclubs and be confronted with the full force of the cultural and social scandal or play under the sponsorship of the gangster bosses who kept the illegal nightlife going in the townships.

Expressions of serious artistic intent were especially frowned upon unless the artistry could be co-opted as exotica for the high brow audience. Such was the case with the musical “King Kong” in 1961. Although it showcased township music and attracted the country’s top musicians, it was soon highjacked by the government for public relations purposes. Dollar Brand’s refusal to tour abroad with the cast shifted his identification beyond being merely one of his country’s most popular musicians. Clearly the state’s policies and his artistry and its imperatives were on a collision course by that time.

“While they went overseas I locked myself away, sticking to our musical agenda, doing what Charlie Parker called ‘wood-shedding’…I just played and played, sometimes I’d work twenty hours a day. When I came out I could play.”

In early 1962, Abdullah Ibrahim and his wife-to-be, vocalist Sathima Bea Benjamin, left South Africa where the always horrific political situation was deteriorating into its darkest era. (His departure set him upon an odyssey that would not allow him to return to Cape Town permanently until 1992.) Over the next three years Abdullah Ibrahim and Sathima lived for short periods at various spots in Europe, but initially they settled down and shared a gig at a coffee house in Zurich.

During this period, about a year into their stay in Switzerland, Sathima ‘hipped’ the touring Duke Ellington to come check out her boyfriend’s performance at a local club. It was more than fortuitous…the Duke was, in Abdullah’s estimation, a King. This moment would complete the first circle of Abdullah’s career, cycling from the homeland and its kingships to the King of American Jazz, who’s person and music was already singularly central to Abdullah’s own music. Four days later the pianist and the Duke were in the Barclay Studios in Paris at which he recorded one record for Reprise, Ellington’s label of the time. He and his trio appeared at the Antibbes Jazz Festival in 1964.

Also during 1964 Ibrahim began to work on compositions for larger ensemble, several of which were played by the Danish Radio Big Band.While in Copenhagen. He recorded for Alan Bates and Black Lion Records a series of trio records with fellow ex-patriots Johnny Gertze and Makaya Ntshoko. It is also worth noting that in the cauldron of changes going on in the Jazz world at the time, his own music was advancing as well. The Black Lion dates are notable for their lyricism influenced by Ellington, their alchemy inspired by Thelonious Monk and intensity stoked by John Coltrane and the saxophonist’s convictions. Long form compositions, such as the epic “Anatomy of a South African Village,” a five part suite originally written for large ensemble, were startling developments coming as they did on the cusp of a remarkable period in music history about to be overwhelmed by the ‘British’ rock and roll invasion.

Yet, his progress during 1965 also was darkened by new laws in South Africa banning all race mixing. It was now impossible for Brand to present his music in his homeland performed by a big band of South African musicians. After three years of preparation, with a portfolio filled with epic scores, the ‘African Tradition’ big band project was dashed against the rocks of apartheid.

Urged to come to the United States by Ellington, Ibrahim in 1965 played a notable solo concert at Carnegie Hall, and later that year received the highest tribute, being invited to fill the piano chair of the Duke Ellington Orchestra for five dates during its east coast tour. While in New York, he had several encounters with Thelonious Monk which made a lasting impression. Once again a direct line is drawn between ancestral kingship and a musical King.

For the next five years Abdullah and Sathima literally bounced around between Europe and the United States. During 1966 he recorded with the group of Elvin Jones and made an important duo record with Gato Barbieri.

He converted to Islam in 1968, receiving the honored name, Abdullah Ibrahim. His discipline turned naturally toward inward and in support of a renewed spiritual commitment and discipline, deepening the iteration of his music; quickening it, as he himself was quickened.

“Many times I would hear a sound and suddenly it would dawn on me that this was the same pattern being used in a different culture. At a very early age Allah blessed me to recognize the universality of music.”

During this period the pianist recorded prolifically in Europe and Canada, etching gripping extended piano essays for Japo, ECM, Enja and Sackville. These recordings brought him great recognition: they were monumental in their extension of the free-spirited wave of late 60?s creative music while at the same time they were anchored, as a mountain is to the landscape, to both the Jazz and African creative continuum. Ibrahim’s early 70?s burst of music broke over the music world like an irrepressible wave, reconciling for many listeners the free form and the ancestral. With this surge of recording activity he began to impress his distinctive musical gifts on a worldwide audience, staking his early international reputation as an infectious and intense solo pianist. Not surprisingly, his appealing expression of simple, timeless ‘Africanized’ melodies preceded and anticipated the success of Keith Jarrett’s solo work, and a few years later, the insipid, platinum-selling musings of George Winston.

Abdullah and Sathima settled in Swaziland in 1971, yet Ibrahim was often on the road touring and recording. In 1973 he recorded his epic big band date “African Space Program” for Enja in New York City. Sonny Fortune, Carlos Ward, Cecil McBee, John Stubblefield and Roy Brooks would come out of that band to form the nucleas of various small groups that toured steadily in the early seventies and were the first incarnation of the -Ekaya- concept.

The Ibrahim family returned to Cape Town in 1973. Between 1974 and 1976 he made his last recordings with South African musicians (until 1992). The fruits of those sessions would include a stirring vamp, “Mannenberg”, (also titled on the original issue “It’s Where’s It’s Happening” [note 1] and reissued in the United States under the title “Capetown Fringe,”) that became the anthem of the post-Soweto uprising (1976) era with its uncompromising evocation of the peoples’ life and hope amongst the death and despair of the government’s brutal and appalling backlash. Then, in 1976, Abdullah Ibrahim made the irrevocable decision to exile himself and his family as a protest against the government’s brutal repression and the horrible conditions in South Africa. Upon his return to the United States, he decided to become among the most prominent artists-in-exile from South Africa, its dictatorship, and the political and social enslavement of apartheid. He refused to return until South Africa held democratic elections.

This image that looks like me was painted by the Friend.
You think I’m speaking these words?
When a key turns in a lock, the lock makes a little opening sound.
(Rumi, r.a., translation Coleman Barks)

Late in 1976, Abdullah Ibrahim and his family moved to New York where he would establish a production company, Ekapa/RPM, and a stable homebase for the first time since the fateful trip to Switzerland in 1963. Adding to what has become one of the most vital bodies of recorded work in creative music during the late 70?s and early 80?s, he moved on to reward listeners with a brilliant series of duet recordings with Archie Shepp, Max Roach, and, most crucially, with the South African multi-instrumentalist, Johnny Dyani. The Panamanian saxophonist and flautist Carlos Ward joined with the pianist to record the brilliant “Zimbabwe” (on Enja) to begin another key musical relationship. The groundwork for the septet Ekaya was being laid in New York and on the road as Abdullah Ibrahim led quartet and quintet sized groups on frequent tours, bringing the ‘Ekapa’ sound to Europe, Japan, and (back to) America. Ibrahim, between the end of 1973 and 1983, etched over two dozen records, including thirteen for Enja and his last records made in South Africa with Kippie Moketsi. It is as shocking and beautiful an outburst of artistry as is to be found anywhere in creative music!

note 1: Principally Lars Rasmussen, authorized discographer for Abdullah Ibrahim, and others, have clarified the point that the composition “Mannenberg” was retitled as “Cape Town Fringe” (once issued in the USA on a Chiaroscuro LP of the same name,) and “Mannenberg Revisited”, and is not to be confused with the different composition “Soweto Is Where It’s At”. My thanks to all who have provided me with correct information.

note 2 (2014): Sathima Bea Benjamin passed away April 2013.

note 3 (2014): the author Stephen Calhoun was associated with Satima Bea Benjamin and Abdullah Ibrahim’s Ekapa/RPM (NYC) 1987-1990; he maintained several iterations of the fan site, Abdullah Ibrahim Mantra Modes 1996-2011; and remains an advocate for the growth of freedom, peace and the loving family of mankind–conceptions advantaged by the soundtrack exemplified by the artistry of Dr. Ibrahim.

Two Views

aiatp

The music of Abdullah Ibrahim has many similarities to that of his early mentor and constant inspiration, Duke Ellington. His playing is characterized by that strong hand and decisive touch, stark chords and cavernous voicings; there is plentiful structural use of trills, arpeggios, and vistas of space; there are insistent stride lefts, resonant pedal tones, bold and rugged landscapes of unforgettable, unimaginable lands, especially evident in solo performance. In a broader sense, there is the prolific pen, the indelible live impressions, the massive integrity.

…As Abdullah Ibrahim has said: “I am not a musician. I am being played.” That’s a little like Duke, in a wry self-interview, asking himself, “Besides God what sustains you?” and answering, “Not besides. How does one manage without God?”

Fred Bouchard; excerpted from the liner notes to Africa: Tears and Laughter

aimmlogo

None the less the black man’s African music inevitably suffered, in his white world, a sea-change more radical than this: for it came into contact, and then conflict, with the musical manifestations of the New World, particularly as exemplified in the white hymn and march. The hymn offered a substratum of western tonic, dominant and subdominant harmony; the march provided also the four square beat of military discipline: and these elements became, in musical terms, literally a prison against which black modal melody and polymetric rhythm beat -violently, yet not in vain, for from tension is generated ebullience. Combat may lead to liberation; pain may heal.

The story inherent in his music is indeed the story of Africa. The Township phase is childhood and adolescence, and escape into euphoria; the American phase grows up to confront tension and anguish, personal, social, religious and political; while the African phase is reaffirmation, both because it musically reintegrates the seemingly contradictory aspects of his experience, and also because it is a direct imaginative statement of Moslem belief.

Starting from barrelhouse blues, enriched by Ellington’s symphonic sonorities, and tautened by Monk’s brittle pianism, he honky tonks the barrelhouse train into jungle or desert, handing the music back to his ancestors. The sharper the juxtaposition of opposites the more positive is the effect: snatches of African tribal ditties and communally pounding drums meld with British missionary hymns and sanctimonious-sounding European chord sequences to generate not only corporeal virility, but also spiritual ecstasis. Black ostinati interact with white evangelical harmony and flower, through the catalyst of American jazz, into a regenerative experience that overrides time and place. The most African movements prove, pointedly, to be also the most universal.

Within the ragbag of races and conventions that make a global village, the disparities of straight line and circle, reconciled, forge new life in an act of praise…balanced on a razor-edge between hazard and hope.

©Wilfred Mellars, excerpted from the notes to Autobiography (Plainesphere)

To Turn the Key In the Lock

Today, celebrating the 80th birthday of the finest and most important people’s musician of the African continent, South African composer, pianist, bandleader, educator, Abdullah ibrahim, I pull to this blog archival posts from the Mantra Modes blog. This article highlights my favorite of his many recordings. I have added at the end a note about his record from last year, Musashi.

TO TURN THE KEY IN THE LOCK
(1999/2014) Over the course of a recording career that will surpass four decades at the dawning of the new century, Abdullah Ibrahim has gifted the world with a singular and distinguished discography. (62 records as of this note being written in 1999). As a musician of the people, or as a creative improvisor, or as a artist in the African tradition, this portfolio is unique among international artists in the modern era of recordings. Yet, it is important to note that this tangible documentation is merely the tip of the artist’s gift, most of which has been directly transmitted via performances and his work with musicians, (especially younger ones).

Ask anyone who has been blessed by that life-moving experience at a concert or ‘gig’, or come into tune and played with Ibrahim about the impact of his artistry.

The 62 records, of which thirty or so are currently available, vary in quality. Yes: they range from the very good to the very fine to the exceptional. No recording is not the issue of the artist’s integrity and devotion.

In each decade Ibrahim has offered up at least one signal offering for that decade, and sometimes he’s offered up several. There are no missteps at all. Defects in recording quality, or musicianship are few, and nowhere are they enough to undermine the artistic moment. The pianist and composer is one of a literal handful who’s recorded documentation has obtained this level of consistent high quality. And, perhaps, only his noble precedents, Duke and Monk, composed modern songs of African tradition more generously.

Mostly, as you experience these records over time, the familiar gets transmogrified and retransmitted in an opus designed to bring joy, then to sympathize with and quicken the soulful listener. Every single record will reward the sensitive attention, evoke one’s ‘receptivity’. This is their true aim.

I’d like to suggest a few initial doorways to go through. They all lead home should you get turned on. If this happens, then proceed to the recordings which lead to the center of this music, as far its documentation. Let me offer five suggestions for those initial doorways and then suggest, from there, three further routes directly into the center of this artistic wellspring.

First is AFRICAN RIVER, the third Ekaya recording, and, perhaps, the most purely ingratiating of the ensemble dates.
Second is AFRICAN MARKETPLACE, similarly celebratory, more rocking, full of zest.
Third is CAPETOWN FLOWERS, a trio date bursting with attractive melodies and concise essays. (As an added extra it gives the trio take on “Joan”, a composition from AFRICAN RIVER.)
Fourth is AFRICAN DAWN, likewise a concise solo piano review of several favored themes, as well as offering versions of compositions by essential ancestral precedents, Monk and Ellington.

Finally, there is the compilation THE MOUNTAIN, made up of most of the first two Ekaya dates. Ekaya is the very fine ensemble Ibrahim regularly assembles to etch little big band African music.

With this ‘ear hold’ on the mountain, you, the aware listener, are in a position to go where your hearing will take you! It should lead via several route deeper into this stream of music!

NEXT KEYS
To proceed deeper into the sounds, first, and foremost, is the route through the South African ensemble recordings. Start with the essential group dates made with Kippie Moketsi in 1960 and reissued as a part of the compilation, (JAZZ IN AFRICA VOL.1; CAMDEN 1004) and his debut under his own name, DOLLAR BRAND PLAYS SPHERE JAZZ, reissued with the exception of one song on BLUES FOR A HIP KING.

This route naturally leads through the later South African ensemble dates reissued as CDs first on Kaz and then on Camden (in the UK.) This route includes MANTRA MODES, the first South African date after the artist returned home, as well as his first recording made with South African musicians after his return to South Africa, MADE IN SOUTH AFRICA TOWNSHIP – ONE MORE TIME. (note-2014-nowadays a rarity.)

The second route goes through the highlights of the Enja/Tiptoe dates which branch upward from the first four suggestions. These include the essential duo dates with Johnny Mbizo Dyani, GOOD NEWS FROM AFRICA and AFRICAN ECHOES; and more from Ekaya, NO FEAR, NO DIE, and MINDIF; and the rocking live date, SOUTH AFRICA. ZIMBABWE, an intense quartet moment featuring alto saxophonist and flautist Carlos Ward is essential and highlight of the discography.

Lastly is a direct route via the famous solo piano dates, sessions full of invigorating alchemical playing. These invoke both ritual realities as well as the innovative syncretism that fuses African tradition and the mighty ancestral rivers of Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk. Their vortex is entered best through AFRICAN PIANO, from the famous live sets recorded at the Jazzhus Monmartre in 1968. Next, proceed through the two Sackville dates and the ‘Felli Farm’ reissue, STANDARDS, ODE TO DUKE ELLINGTON, and, if you can find it, the Plainesphere date, AUTOBIOGRAPHY, (a high point,) reissued in Japan on Denon. The solo piano dates are all full of bright moments, magic and, graced with what could be described as the ebullience of the ancient African church.

I’d like to mention one other record. It is essential even as it stands apart from the discography as a singularly evocative, deeply personal moment. Recorded after Abdullah returned from 15 years in self-exile, it is a bittersweet celebration of loss and gain. KNYSNA BLUE showcases the artist as a one man band, yet it is the atmospheric and deeply revelatory title track with its (almost) impossibly affecting narration that reminds the listener of what is at stake in this peoples’ music. It is a shout out of hope aimed into the future. What is made the stake is, as Abdullah Ibrahim titled one of his compositions, simple yet starkly rendered on this profound record: ‘life is for the living, death is for us all’. Perhaps it is KNYSA BLUE that is the one key to turn after your heart has been stirred deeply…when you’ve experienced your own moment of Cape Town musical magic.

MUKASHI – ONCE UPON A TIME (2014) 
released 29 April 2014

Abdullah Ibrahim – piano, flute, vocals
Cleave Guyton – flute, clarinet, saxophones
Eugen Bazijan – cello
Scott Roller – cello

A new listener would do just fine to start with Ibrahim’s most recent record. (Sunnyside download at Bandcamp) The small ensemble ambience is keyed to a pair of cellos and flute, along with piano and voice. Unique to his discography, the new record is elegiac and gemlike. It’s beautiful, but, then, it is about beauty, and about the beauty that lasts, and is everlasting.

Approach with receptivity and be engaged! Have fun. Be moved. May God will it so for you; for all peoples.

NOTES:
iTunes | Amazon

If you have any suggestions or corrections, feel free to contact me. Your input is appreciated.

I am indebted to Lars Rasmussen, author of Abdullah Ibrahim: A Discography. His comprehensive discography is the backbone to this resource. (More information is at the publisher’s Booktrader web site. There you will find absolutely essential resources about South African music and musicians.) His discography is an essential adjunct to a deep engagement with this music; highly recommended. My guide is dedicated to Lars Rasmussen. Thanks, man!

Source – Activity – Reception

Table Mountain #4 (S.Calhoun)
Table Mountain #4 (S.Calhoun)

SOURCE (a glimpse into the soul of REAL africa) look with truthful eyes at the REAL africa and you will see that we are not bloodthirsty savages when the khoisan people (the so-called bushmen and hottentots) of southern africa perform their “moon ritual” it is not because we “worship the moon”, but that we recognize THE SUPREME LIGHT we know THE SUPREME we have known HIM since CREATION TSOIEKWAP…THE SUPREME HETSI EBIB…THE PROPHET when “explorers” landed at the southern tip of africa and amongst other “strange” things found us sitting in dark caves with eyes turned toward the heavens and with them mark of the cross on our foreheads they could only conclude that such was the “behavior of a savage” but know now that yoga is a prayer we know THE SUPREME we have known HIM since CREATION e=mc squared TSOEIKWAP IS LIGHT energy into mass and mass into energy HE CREATED ALL AND UNTO HIM SHALL ALL RETURN the basis of all human knowledge is belief if this is so (mathematics-science) THROUGH BELIEF IN HIM YOU SHALL GET KNOWLEDGE OF HIM the electron consists of vibrations IN THE BEGINNING WAS THE WORK there is no such thing as “one” we know THE ONE-NESS the smallest and biggest unit is “three” …SOURCE – ACTIVITY – RECEPTION

ACTIVITY the impressions on this album have been “recorded” out of and in compassion in the mad whirlpool of “professionalism” the “artist” is driven by an almost fanatical compulsion to “get himself recorded” he is obsessed with an immediate distribution and if possible – assimilation of “his original work” all his efforts are directed by, for and towards that elusive mythical ghost known as “the general public”, the artist is convinced that TIME is a clock AND HE CREATED US IN HIS OWN IMAGE everything that has ever occurred is recorded in THE SUPREME MEMORY can you deny then that GREAT-DAY when the GREATEST ALBUM EVER is released complete with liner notes and personal instant replay

RECEPTION bra joe from kilimanjaro selby that THE ETERNAL SPIRIT IS THE ONLY REALITY THE MOON xaba sunset in blue kippy jabulani-easter joy tintiyana

copyright 1969 Xahuri Dullah Brahim

Magical Eighty

Abdullah Ibrahim & me, 1987
Abdullah Ibrahim & me, 1987
Today, on my friend Abdullah Ibrahim’s 80th birthday, I commence bringing to this blog archival posts and essays from the Abdullah Ibrahim’s Mantra Modes blog (1999-2014.) That blog will be shut down and its contents will be integrated here under its own category.

A PERSONAL APPRECIATION (2003; updated 2014)

I came to Abdullah Ibrahim’s music out of a giant love and regard for the music and artistic kingship of Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, and, especially, Thelonious Monk. Although I was quite certain about the pantheon those geniuses inhabited, and the meaningfulness of the gifts my long, abiding , engagement with their music had brought to me, instantly, in the aftermath of hearing Abdullah Ibrahim for the first time around 1976, he became my personal favorite musician.

Much later I would strike up an association with A.I. and his family that proved more than meaningful…it proved to be a fortuitous, life changing experience. We eventually would even develop a loose professional association, sharing ideas about the business implications of what he termed peoples’ music. I was grateful to spend many moments with Abdullah and his wife Sathima. The memories abound!

Still, there was a time when it didn’t make much sense to me. Without a doubt, I took our relationship for granted. (How many persons are so fortunate to even meet their favorite musicians?) Despite the accrued hours of listening accumulated over more than twenty-five years and my exposure to tens of musics and hundreds of musical artists, it wasn’t until 1988, while I sat with Abdullah Ibrahim at a table in the student center at Middlebury College in Vermont, amidst the bustle of both lunchtime and my own ignorance, that I would be given the opportunity to comprehend just how it was a particular musical arrow made its way into a particular heart, my heart.

Abdullah took out a felt tip pen and, after unfolding a paper napkin, proceeded to draw profiles of the earth’s continents in a rough projected map. Then he began to quickly note the similarities in harmony, instruments, and approach of a wide variety of folkloric musics until he had identified multiple “centers of musical science,” (as he put it,) at which point he began to tell me of the migrations of various peoples, their musical knowledge, and other kinds of knowledge, over vast ocean and land distances. These routes he called “paths of transmission”. He explained to me how this led to both a cross-pollination of musical science at the same time such transmissions guaranteed the “sound basis” for each tradition remained rooted in the sublime simplicity of “the original musical science”. He added, “This history is not commonly known! Very soon the napkin was a tangle of centers and routes. It looked like some sort of plant self-organizing along seemingly random tendrils to birth additional offshoots.

Abdullah didn’t upset this metaphor when I brought it up, he only realigned my consideration to encompass the web so drawn within the image of a “vast system of rivers” along which the “verbal and nutritional and sound and color and healing and herbal and movement sciences” travelled over eons. I became struck with a startling comprehension of how the river system provided necessary nourishment and harmonization which served to vitalize the propagation of the human spirit. We sat in silence, no further speaking was necessary, nor did it ensue.

Later, I came to understand something about my sensitivity to sound.

Abdullah recounts his first meeting with Thelonious Monk in the early 60’s, a meeting at which, after Abdullah’s introducing himself to his forbearer, he was thunderstruck by Monk’s “being one of God’s ancient scientists, an ‘African King'”

Never will I forget walking out of a movie theatre in Montpelier, Vermont, on a brisk July night in 1988 having just viewed the movie Straight, No Chaser with Abdullah and our friend Deborah. As we hit the sidewalk Abdullah did a Monk-like dance down the street. As we stopped at the corner, he was reminded of the difficult construction and harmony of “Brilliant Corners”. Right then and there he sang it to us. He sang more ‘proper’ melodies of certain Monk songs by way of explaining how often musicians ‘unable to really deal with Monk’s music,’ would simplify Monk’s compositions. Silence: Abdullah seemed to get very somber.

It’s a lifetime’s work to deal with Monk.

Just as suddenly Abdullah brightened and turning to Deborah, also a pianist, he told her,

To play Monk you must dance!

Abdullah once told me there were three levels of his music: (one) “there is the ensemble music…very powerful and being expressed for the peoples of the world;” (two) “there is solo piano…which demands much more attention and won’t provide its rewards for everybody;” (three) “finally, there is our singing ‘unit’ which is by invitation only, may be perilous for the unprepared, and, is the connection!”

I asked him if he got nervous before performances.

“Afraid? Always. I never know what message I will be asked to deliver.”

The Ancestral Relation
May such inspiration impact the reconciliation and healing of
South Africa, Africa and, the COSMIC AFRICA (source of ‘all’)
that has at its center the Original Mountain out of which flows the One Creative River that formulates a Spiral
and describes the Timeless Circular Ocean
out of which the Human Spirit is able to sip and taste
Nobility, Majesty, Truth and Beauty.

Mantra Modes Blog Coming Home

The original Mantra Modes blog, dedicated to the music and artistry of Dr. Abdullah Ibrahim, the greatest and most profound jazz musician the continent of Africa has produced over the past 40,000 or so years, was created in 1999 and attached to my original apk.net web site.

It’s third incarnation began in 2008. However, I have not been able to give it the care that its mission deserves. As a result, I am going to move, piece-by-piece, its content back into the structure of its second incarnation, here on the home blog of all my musical interests. Most of the pieces will be re-highlighted as blog posts.

I’ll keep the Mantra Modes blog up until the move is completed sometime in the next few months.

The South African Dr. Ibrahim’s own, very fine web site, is in its second incarnation. He turns eighty on October 9th. I am honored to highlight his artistry in any manner–after all he is both my favorite musician, and the instigator of some significant moments of rewarding personal learning during our rewarding intense encounter and association long ago (and sometimes seeming like yesterday too!)

Africa – A Few Favorites – 2013

Africa – new records

Ben Zabo – Ben Zabo
Abdullah Ibrahim – Mukashi Once Upon a Time

Mokoomba – Rising Tide
va – Red Hot + Fela (iTunes)
Bombino – Nomad
Owiny Sigoma Band – Power Punch

http://youtu.be/RmCacZkXGfs

Africa – Reissues

va – Angola Soundtrack 2 Hypnosis, Distorsions & Other Sonic Innovations 1969 -1978

William Onyeabor – World Psychedelic Classics Vol. 5 Who is William Onyeabor
Sathima Bea Benjamin – African Songbird
Le Grand Kalle – His Life, His Music
Orchestre Poly-Rhythmo De Cotonous – The Skeletal Essences of Afro Funk 1969-1980 Vol. 3

comment, new records: It was a very good year for new music from Africa, a year that pops out because Ben Zabo and Makoomba and Owiny Sigoma Band front for about a dozen releases that provided similar jaw-dropping listening experiences. Ben Zabo gets the nod to share the top spot because of the heavy dose of afrobeat he brings to his Malian vibe. Zabo provided this year’s ‘Zani Daibate’ moment. Not only because he’s a friend and my favorite musician does Dr. Ibrahim top my estimation. He makes elegiac records and Mukashi was released the year his beloved wife Sathima suddenly passed away. But, there’s more: turning eighty this year, Ibrahim seems to me to be working at a high level of spiritual intention with Mukashi–so the fine date featuring flute, clarinet and two cellos struck me as exceptional even by the artist’s high standards.

comment, reissues: The flood of house shaking classic African music continues apace. Angola Soundtrack 2 Angola Soundtrack 2 Hypnosis, Distorsions & Other Sonic Innovations was crazy-good, and number one for me, and it possessed the best title too! The most important record date of the late Sathima Bea Benjamin, the greatest jazz singer Africa has produced so far, came back into the light. Known qualities flesh out the top of my list, yet I could have thrown darts at the best of the rest to decide.

Freshly Ground (South Africa)


Freshly Ground ‘Nomvula ‘ live on eXpresso


Freshly Ground – Doo Be Doo

Freshly Ground [Facebook]

Freshlyground is a South African Afro-fusion band that formed in Cape Town in 2002. The band members variously hail from South Africa, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe. Freshlyground‘s musical style blends elements of traditional South African music (such askwela and African folk music), blues, jazz, and features of indie rock. (Wikipedia)

…a huge group in South Africa. Terrific musical personality captured in videos on youtube.

Sathima, Peace Be With You

sathima-benjamin

Having noted at the essential South African music blog, Electric Jive, a series of entries in July about Sathima Bea Benjamin, I was preparing a blog post to highlight wonderful resources brought forth at this fine group blog.

After Electricjive featured her to help highlight series of concerts celebrating her artistry presented in Cape Town in July, this was to be the hook for a post here.

Sathima Bea Benjamin

Now, sadly, Sathima Bea Benjamin has passed on, flown away away really, and, my purpose is now is to urge my readers to check her music out. Her human spirit is large, humane, and so was her lifetime of song-making.

Cape Town Celebrates Sathima Bea Benjamin (August 5th)

Her set at Tagores Jazz Bar was recorded:

 

Sathima Bea Benjamin web site

Trailer for the limited release documentary, Sathima’s Windsong

 

Archivist and scholar of South African music Matsuli (Matthew Temple) has issued on Bandcamp (and through iTunes,) the very rare al-Shams recording of Sathima, African Songbird. From 1976, the record obviously is one of the now-found cornerstones of the revolutionary artistic response to apartheid. 

A real treat:

Obituary at AllAfrica

Concert notice at profoundlysouthafrican.za

Sathima MAy 2013
May 2013

From a terrific article published in 2006.

Along with the legend of Buddy Bolden, the invisibility of Sathima Bea Benjamin will go down in jazz history as one of the great mysteries of this music. Benjamin, the mother of indie hip-hopper Jean Grae, stands among the greatest musical storytellers to ever hold a mic. She delivers lyrics with such emotion and patient phrasing that she will keep you hanging on to every word, and those words will linger for days, even weeks. And she exudes a kind of romantic innocence, not the kind of romance produced by pain, loss, and experience, but the “first love” variety, the dreaming love we associate with the young. She doesn’t sing the blues; she renders every love song like a first kiss.

Benjamin can create emotional truth and innocence in part because she doesn’t rely on vocal acrobatics or melisma–just pure, crystalline sound. And like Abbey Lincoln and Cassandra Wilson, she has her own unique tone. She has been performing and recording for the past four decades, always to enthusiastic reviews. In fact, she has been “rediscovered” at least three or four times in her career, and each rediscovery generates a flurry of excitement until some gigantic commercial label finds a new, young, sexy thing who can give the people what market researchers say they want. Robin D.G. Kelly, Jazztimes, Sathima Bea Benjamin: The Echo Returns

My hope is that grown up music lovers or anybody with a musically sensitive soul, if you haven’t ever heard her music, leap from this page to your newest exploration. Sathima did not make anything but stellar recordings, and each is a very direct and profound transmission. Starting point? (1) Song Spirit, #2 Musical Echoes iTunes

Sathima Bea Benjamin

Dub Collision Mix: Simi Lindele (Homecoming)

Are you digging the drone of the vuvuzela as it sounds constantly during the FIFA World Cup in South Africa? I am. The long plastic horn sounds like whale songs do.

I’ve a 20+ year, and intimate relationship with the music of South Africa. (A bit of story,) but, the main thing recently is that the deep and beautiful musical culture at the bottom of Africa also is, going back (say) 25,000-100,000 years is at the bottom of music. The deep old sounds are the center of my investigation and tool-making concerned with what I’ve come to term, imaginal musicology. See Rhythm River for the skinny.

Think about the progression going back in time: modern to ancient to archaic to primitive to proto music. Proto music would be the music sounded in the settlements of earliest mankind, and in this period, not known as music per say. It’s struck me what a heavy concept it is to regard something fundamental as originating in an even more basic form and formulation stretched back to the necessary point where it was not known in any ‘second order’ terms. So, the sound world, the intentional sonic projection, the directed voice or rhythm, is not at such time–way back then!-known as music. It came before music; it is the song of before music.

Appropriate to this, my mix offered here starts with the music of the Khoi of the Kalahari, and then wanders with considerable intention through the diverse garden of South African music, and through a fairly thick slice of musical history too. There’s a streaming sampling of a Khoi woman singing to dance to.

1 Tribesmen – Kalahari 15 1:06
2 Durban High Stars – Lapha eSandlwana 02:43
3 Philip Nchipi Tabane – Lalavuka 2:36
4 Simphiwe Dana – Vukani (mix – modjadji) 5:06
5 The Dark City SDisters – Sihamba Kancane 2:15
6 Letta Mbulle – Noma Themba 3:19
7 Thekwane & the Sound Brothers – Sakubona 3:28
8 Reggie Msomi – Midnight Ska 2:25
9 Aaron Mbambo – Selishonile Ilanga 3:02
10 Eric Nomvete’s Big Five – Pondo Blues 4:13
11 Mahlathini & The Queens – Umkhovu 3:26
12 Hugh Masekela – Ha Lese Le Di Khanna 3:07
13 Amompondo – Salawena (Smith & Mighty dub remix) 5:49
14 Nganeziyamifisa No Khambalomvaleliso – Sini Lindile 3:15
15 West Nkosi – Inyoni Yami 2:17
16 Holy Spirits Vhoir – Baba Wethu Baxolele 3:10
17 Abdullah Ibrahim – Hamba Kahle 2:38
18 Robbie Jansen – Bokaap Kwela 03:58
19 Brenda Fassi – Ngiyakusaba 5:14
20 Zim Ngqawana – Anthem 9:14