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​Abdullah Ibrahim will be in Johannesburg for a one-night only performance of his latest work, Senzo, which features an 18-piece jazz orchestra big band.
JAZZ master Abdullah Ibrahim is bringing his new solo performance, titled Senzo, which means “ancestor” in Chinese and Japanese, to Joburg for a once-off performance.

Abdullah IbrahimJazz maestro Abdullah IbrahimSenzo also echoes the name of Ibrahim’s Sotho father, in whose language the word translates as “creator”. According to the musician, the solo “is a journey through sound – striving towards our individual and collective home”.

Senzo will be performed at the Linder Auditorium on 17 February with an 18-piece jazz orchestra big band featuring Andile Yenana, Feya Faku, Barney Rachabani, as well as international artists Tony Koti and Andrae Murchison, among others.

Ibrahim, South Africa’s most distinguished pianist and a world-respected master musician, was born in 1934 in Cape Town and baptized Adolph Johannes Brand. His earliest musical memories were of traditional Khoi San songs and the Christian hymns, gospel tunes and spirituals that he heard from his grandmother, who was the pianist at the local African Methodist Episcopalian church, and his mother, who led the choir.

Known as Dollar Brand, the young Ibrahim’s childhood was a melting pot of cultural influences. He was exposed to American jazz, township jive and Cape Malay music, as well as classical music. Through that blend, he developed a distinct style of harmonies and a unique musical vocabulary.

He began piano lesson at the age of seven and made his professional debut at 15, playing and later recording with local groups such as the Tuxedo Slickers. He was at the forefront of the bebop sound, giving the jazz genre a Cape Town flavour. In 1958, the Dollar Band Trio was formed.

It was followed by his ground-breaking group the Jazz Epistles, formed in 1959. In the band were saxophonist Kippie Moeketsi, trumpeter Hugh Masekela, trombonist Jonas Gwanga, bassist Johnny Gertze and drummer Makaya Ntshoko, who recorded the first jazz album by South African musicians. That same year, Ibrahim met and first performed with vocalist Sathima Bea Benjamin; they were to marry six years later.

After the notorious Sharpeville massacre of 1960, mixed race bands and audiences were defying the increasingly strict apartheid laws, and jazz symbolised resistance, so the government closed a number of clubs and harassed the musicians.

Some members of the Jazz Epistles went to England with the musical King Kong, and stayed in exile. These were difficult times in South Africa. In 1962, with Nelson Mandela imprisoned and the ANC banned, Ibrahim and Benjamin left the country, joined later by Gertze and Ntshoko. They took up a three-year contract at the Club Africana in Zürich.

There, in 1963, Benjamin persuaded Duke Ellington, the great American jazz musician, to listen to them play, which led to a recording session in Paris – Duke Ellington presents the Dollar Brand Trio – and invitations to perform at key European festivals and on television and radio over the next two years.

In 1965, the now married couple moved to New York. Three years later, 1968 was a turning point. Searching for spiritual harmony in an increasingly fractured life, Dollar Brand went back to Cape Town, where he converted to Islam, taking the name Abdullah Ibrahim, and in 1970 he made a pilgrimage to Mecca.

Music and martial arts further reinforced the spiritual discipline he found. After a couple of years based in Swaziland, where he founded a music school, Ibrahim and his young family returned to Cape Town in 1973, though he still toured internationally with his own large and small groups.

Mannenberg – Is Where it’s Happening was recorded in 1974, and it soon became an unofficial national anthem for black South Africans. After the Soweto student uprising, in 1976, he organised an illegal ANC benefit concert and before long, he and his family again left for New York.

In 1990, a free Nelson Mandela invited him to come home to South Africa. The fraught emotions of re-acclimatising were reflected in Mantra Modes (1991), his first recording with South African musicians since 1976, and in Knysna Blue (1993). He memorably performed at Mandela’s inauguration in 1994.

Today, his discography runs to well over a hundred album credits.

When not on tour, Ibrahim divides his time between Cape Town and New York. In addition to composing and performing, he has started a South African production company, Masingita (Miracle), and established a music academy, M7, offering courses in seven disciplines to educate young minds and bodies.

In 2006, he spearheaded the creation of the Cape Town Jazz Orchestra, an 18-piece big band.

The Linder Auditorium is on the University of the Witwatersrand’s Education Campus, St Andrew’s Road, Parktown. Tickets for Senzo are R220 and are available at Computicket. Doors open at 7.15pm.

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