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Abdullah Ibrahim
Abdullah Ibrahim
Abdullah Ibrahim & band

Abdullah Ibrahim
@ The Royal Festival Hall, London
4 June 2005 (Additional photographs 17 May 2008 & 31 March 2010)

Click an image to enlarge.


Born in Cape Town, South Africa in 1934, Abdullah Ibrahim was instinctively influenced by songs of Africa, Jazz and religious teachings. He received piano lessons from the age of seven, converting from amateur to professional musician around the age of fifteen, becoming a member of The Tuxedo Slickers Willie Max Big Band. Ibrahim met South African jazz vocalist Sathima Bea Benjamin through music, they married in1965.

Duke Ellington was so impressed by the later formed Dollar Band Trio (which included Abdullah Ibrahim on piano, Johnny Gertze on bass and Makaya Ntshoko on drums), after listening to them at the Africana Club in Zürich. He arranged a recording session for the band with Reprise Records. Appearances at major festivals, television and radio shows were to follow.

In 1966 Ibrahim led the Duke Ellington Orchestra touring the United States. He recalls;

“I did five dates substituting for him. It was exciting but very scary, I could hardly play”.

Abdullah Ibrahim, (who had changed his name after converting to Islam in the late 1960’s) by now had found his true vocation as a ‘band leader’. He continued playing at concerts and clubs throughout the United States, Montreux, North Sea and other major festivals.

After extensive travel and exploration, Ibrahim returned to South Africa in the mid 1970’s, but found the political climate unbearably ‘oppressive’, so felt forced to return to New York.

Ibrahim wrote the soundtrack for the film ‘ Chocalat’ in 1988, which not only won critical acclaim, but also an award. This was the start of a fruitful journey in film music, the most recent being the soundtrack to “No Fear, No Die”. He continues to be a ‘musically expressive’ deeply religious individual with many successful projects under his belt. Touring and recording extensively over many years, Ibrahim has recorded a wealth of material for Enja Records and he appears not to be slowing in pace as his recognition and admiration continues to grow.

Review (4 June 2005)

I deliberated for two or three days before deciding to write this review. Many issues came to mind, firstly the lack of quality close range photographs of any of the three musicians. Politics in the shape of ‘professionalism’, protocol and manners also came into play. I then thought of using well-known catchphrases as subtitles such as, ‘win some loose some’, or ‘down but not out’! As a description to how I felt.

A great amount of work has gone into this non-profit making site. I have loved every minute of it. As the aphorism confirms on the title page, “For the love of music…!”

It took approximately two weeks of telephone calls, emails and waiting before I finally got the go ahead to photograph and review Mr Ibrahim & Trio. I also passed up on a few other confirmed gigs. And though I had been pre warned of the possibility of not being able to photograph him at close range. I was still ‘a little shocked’ when I was politely ushered back a further sixty metres from stage by his tour manager, who apologised profusely.

“I am so sorry” he said. “But if Abdullah turns around and can see you he will freak!”

At this point I was ready to join the few photographers I had seen earlier who promptly left! Not because I am spoilt, or felt I had been handled rudely. Quite the contrary, the tour manager was clearly embarrassed by the situation. And as stated previously, I had been pre warned, but I felt I had respected protocol. And I had discreetly placed myself on the sixth or seventh seat row from the stage. I did contemplate travelling with my ‘Hubble telescope lens’ just in case, but felt it wouldn’t be necessary. How wrong could I be? Michael Valentine Studio is a photography / review platform, read 'artist mood swings',(as well as a few other things). Photographs are key to the ‘bigger picture’ (so to speak). I negotiated quietly with Abdullah’s tour manager. There seemed to be a possibility of speaking with Mr Ibrahim after his set. So I sat back and laid my best friend (my camera) down to one side.

Abdullah Ibrahim has a quiet, but commanding spiritual presence, which could be felt as soon as he entered ‘stage left’ with his fellow musicians. He occupies his personal space around the piano like a father protecting his only child.

I had kissed my own five-year-old son goodnight before leaving to witness Ibrahim’s ‘piano magic’, explaining to him that I was going to attend a ‘Jazz gig’.

“A jazz 'geeg' daddy, what’s that? Can I come too?” He asked.

Ibrahim’s approach to the piano reminded me of my recent embrace with my son. Sensitive, sweet, gentle and last but not least, extremely protective. Ibrahim glided seamlessly through his set without ever uttering a word to either his musicians, or his attentive audience. Swaying gently touching on a strict classical approach, through to jazz with reggae nuances. The quintet as a whole offered a master class in precision, but warm musicianship. You really felt the affection and genuine heart felt truthfulness of Belden Bullock’s bass, which caressed your soul and danced lightly on the listeners’ ear. George Gray mesmerised us, not only with millimetre perfect drum, cymbal & high hat strikes, but also with his added ‘above head’ and to ‘the side’ stick twirling genius.

Ibrahim communicates via the piano like a multi-lingual interpreter. He can be extremely complex in his delivery, making you feel inadequate in your understanding of both music structure and sequencing. On the other hand he is able to embrace your most intricate thoughts and childlike innocent spirit with his almost ‘nursery rhyme’, story telling melodic gifts.

After his set finished I waited outside Mr Ibrahim’s dressing room for half an hour for the opportunity to explain who I was. And why I was there. After all, I would hardly describe myself as paparazzi! The opportunity never came. An embarrassed, but understanding assistant appeared and explained;

“I have been given the unenviable task of clearing the area!”

If I do get the opportunity to see Abdullah Ibrahim again. I will probably leave my camera at home and take my son instead.

Musicians for Abdullah Ibrahim Trio:
Abdullah Ibrahim - piano
Belden Bullock – bass, George Gray - drums

Uncharacteristically, the review was written before researching Abdullah Ibrahim’s biography.

Robin Francis
© Michael Valentine Studio

Abdullah Ibrahim & band

Abdullah Ibrahim

Abdullah Ibrahim Trio



African Magic African Sun Journey Water From An Ancient Well


Further Recommended

  Click Monty Alexander's album to view his photographs and read his review.
Click Joe Sample's album to view his photographs and read his review.

Monty Alexander - Live at The Iridium. (Click to go to Monty Alexander's page) Joe Sample - Spellbound. (click to go to Joe Sample's page)

 Go back to the jazz gallery.

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