Art & Culture

Abdullah Ibrahim: South Africa’s master pianist is going on a world tour at 90

Abdullah Ibrahim is the finest jazz pianist-composer that South Africa has ever produced – even in such a jazz-rich country. He is the country’s equivalent of the US jazz star Duke Ellington, because his legacy lies not only in his live performances or multiple recordings but also in his large number of compositions.

He was brought up going by the name Dollar Brand and was shaped personally by his mixed-race parentage and by growing up in the mixed-race area of central Cape Town formerly known as District Six. The area was demolished during the 1970s by the white minority apartheid regime and 60 000 people were forced to live far outside Cape Town on the Cape Flats. He was shaped by this violent political landscape of racism and oppression. As a young man he was also shaped by his conversion to Islam in 1968, which is when he took the name Abdullah Ibrahim, and by his practice of martial arts and zen (a form of Buddhism).

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