Born Adolph Johannes Brand in 1934, Cape Town, South Africa; married Sathima Bea Benjamin, 1965; converted to Islam and adopted the name Abdullah Ibrahim, 1968. Addresses: Record company--Enja Records, P.O. Box 190333, D-80603, Munich Germany; Fax: (49)(89)167 88 10.

Abdullah Ibrahim is noted for his fusion of South African musical culture with freeform American jazz and for his highly original film scores and the operas he has composed. Ibrahim also plays synthesizer, cello, soprano saxophone, and the flute. His distinctive sound combines a jubilant jazz feel with a wide range of African influences and material. His diverse compositions display his complex, multi-layered talent. He has recorded with Enja Records for over 20 years and he explained the musical philosophy of his band in one of the label's press releases. "We hope it will bring some happiness."

Ibrahim was born Adolph Johannes Brand in 1934 in Cape Town, South Africa. He was steeped in traditional African songs, jazz, and religious music as a child and these musical influences became the underpinnings of his compositions. He began playing piano at the age of seven and was largely self-taught using church music, jazz on the radio, and the collection of records in his home as his teachers. Brand began his career in earnest in 1949 at the age of 25 when he adopted the stage name Dollar Brand. He began playing the popular music of the mid-1950s with two bands, the Tuxedo Slickers and the Willie Max Big Band. In 1959, he met alto saxophone player Kippi Moeketsi who convinced him to devote his life to music.

By 1960 Brand had formed a jazz band called the Jazz Epistles that included Hugh Masakela, Jonas Gwangwa, and Kippie Moeketsi. They released Jazz Epistles: Verse One in 1960 on the French label, Celluloid. This release was the first appearance of South African jazz on a long playing record. Many of Ibrahim's former accompanists in South Africa went on win great success, notably saxophonist Basil Coetzee who became a star of modern Cape jazz. When Ibrahim's anti-government stance and political activities drew the attention of the U.S. authorities in 1962, he embarked upon a long trip to Europe with the jazz singer Sathima Bea Benjamin, whom he would marry in 1965.

Discovered by Duke Ellington

One night during the band's 1962 European tour, Duke Ellington caught the Dollar Brand Trio at the Africana Club in Zurich. Ellington was impressed with the style and craftsmanship of Ibrahim, bassist Johnny Gertze and drummer Makaya Ntshoko, and arranged for a recording session at Reprise Records. The result of the sessions was the album Duke Ellington Presents the Dollar Brand Trio. Ellington also provided contacts for the Dollar Brand Trio that led to appearances at major European festivals as well as on television and radio shows in 1963 and 1964.

Brand played the Newport Jazz Festival in 1965, which he followed up with by his first U.S. tour. A year later, he led the Duke Ellington Orchestra and told the Enya label, "I did five dates substituting for [Ellington]. It was exciting but very scary, I could hardly play." He moved to New York and played with the era's free jazz leaders, including Don Cherry, Ornette Coleman, and John Coltrane. He spent six months playing with the Elvin Jones Quartet.

Cut Off from Roots

It was around 1968 when Brand converted to Islam and adopted the name Abdullah Ibrahim and pursued his interest in politics and religion. He returned to South Africa to record, but the ban on the African National Congress made it difficult for him to maintain close ties with his homeland. In spite of this political separation, he continued to explore his musical roots and the ways in which they could be fused with American jazz. In 1968 he made a solo piano tour, after which he continued to tour extensively in the U.S., Europe, and Japan. He appeared at major music festivals throughout the world, including the Montreux Jazz Festival, the North Sea Festival, and festivals in Berlin, Paris, and Canada. Much of his music from the 1960s and 1970s defines those eras in American jazz.

Ibrahim returned to South Africa in the mid-1970s, but he found the political climate so oppressive that he returned to New York City in 1976, where he continued to hone his music alongside many of the city's jazz titans. He was prolific during the years 1965-98, often releasing as many as four albums a year. He released both Anatomy of A South African Village and The Dream in 1965, and Hamba Khale with Gato Barbieri in 1968. The much-lauded This Is Dollar Brand and African Piano came out in 1973. Noteworthy releases of the late 1970s included 1974's Mannenberg, 1976's Banyana, and 1979's Tears and Laughter and Echoes from Africa . Ibrahim's impressive output continued for the next two decades. From the mid-1980s on, Ibrahim performed with his seven-piece band, Ekaya. They released a series of albums that included African River, Zimbabwe, Mantra Mode, and Yarona. In 1996 Ibrahim and Ekaya released the album Capetown Flowers . Reviewing the record, Newsday wrote, "Giants still walk the earth and Abdullah Ibrahim is among them. This South African composer, a discovery and disciple of Duke Ellington, is playing with an authority that is close to regal."

Broadened Musical Range

In the early 1980s, Ibrahim expanded his musical palette to include a broader range of music. He began composing operas and Kalahari Liberation was presented to much acclaim throughout Europe. In 1988 Ibrahim wrote the soundtrack for the film Chocolat (the American release was entitled Mindif ), and followed with the soundtrack to the film No Fear, No Die in 1990. Ibrahim returned to South Africa to live in 1990 following the end of apartheid, but he maintained a residence in New York City as well. In 1997 he collaborated with legendary jazz drummer Max Roach for a televised concert at the Baltica Festival. Swiss composer Daniel Schnyder arranged Ibrahim's compositions for a 22-piece string orchestra in 1997 and 1998. The finished product, entitled African Suite, was broadcast over six days, first on Swiss television and later worldwide.

Ibrahim was the featured soloist with the Munich Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, and several other orchestras expressed interest in performing his work, which placed Ibrahim in the major classical venues of the world. In 1997 Switzerland's Innovative Music published the Abdullah Ibrahim Song Book , and in January 1998 the Adbullah Ibrahim Trio performed with the Munich Radio Philharmonic Orchestra under American conductor Barbara Yahr. That concert at Munich's Herkules Saal concert hall was recorded for release on CD.

Since it began, Abdullah Ibrahim's long career has combined musical forms into fascinating new hybrids of south African music, jazz, and classical and world music. It will be exciting to hear what new forms he creates.

by B. Kimberly Taylor

Abdullah Ibrahim's Career

Toured Europe in 1962 as leader of the Dollar Brand Trio, comprised of Brand, bassist Johnny Gertze and drummer Makaya Ntshoko; discovered by Duke Ellington while performing in Zurich; released Duke Ellington Presents the Dollar Brand Trio, 1963; appeared at major European festivals, 1963-1964; played the Newport Jazz Festival, 1965; led the Duke Ellington Orchestra in 1966; moved to New York where he played with John Coltrane, Don Cherry, and Ornette Coleman among others; played with the Elvin Jones Quartet for six months; released more than 30 albums between 1965-1998; recorded and performed with his seven-piece band, Ekaya, from the mid-1980s on; composed the opera Kalahari Liberation early 1980s; wrote the soundtrack for the film Chocolat (American release entitled Mindif), 1988; composed soundtrack for film No Fear, No Die, 1990; collaborated with jazz drummer Max Roach, 1997; with the Adbullah Ibrahim Trio performed with the Munich Radio Philharmonic Orchestra under conductor Barbara Yahr, 1988.

Famous Works

Recent Updates

February 24, 2004: Ibrahim's albums, African Suite and Cape Town Revisited, were released. Source:,, February 26, 2004.

Further Reading



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