Jazz icon Abdullah Ibrahim: ‘Cape Town will always be home’

Abdullah Ibrahim. Picture: Supplied

Abdullah Ibrahim. Picture: Supplied

Published Feb 25, 2024


South African jazz icon Abdullah Ibrahim's return to the Cape Town City Hall for a performance is poignant as it is the place where he gave his first professional concert when he was a teen, a highlight in his career he would never forget.

He recently announced his SA tour dates and said he was amped to return home to Cape Town in April.

One of the country’s crown jewels of music will perform in Gauteng too after a five-year absence, in a series of concerts in April.

A special performance at Cape Town City Hall will mark a historic moment for Abdullah, when he first performed at the venue when he was 16.

Jazz icon Abdullah Ibrahim. Picture: Supplied

Born and raised in District Six, he is the last surviving member of a generation of global jazz giants that included his mentor Duke Ellington and the legends with whom he lived and played.

He was at the forefront of playing bebop with a Cape Town flavour and 1958 saw the formation of the Dollar Brand Trio. His groundbreaking septet the ‘Jazz Epistles’, formed in 1959 with saxophonist Kippie Moeketsi, trumpeter Hugh Masekela, trombonist Jonas Gwanga, bassist Johnny Gertze and drummer Makaya Ntshoko, recorded the first jazz album by South African musicians.

He told Weekend Argus: “I have not played in Cape Town in five years. Covid had a huge impact on live performances.

“I am doing solo piano tours and some trio and Ekaya concerts in Europe; UK, USA linked with my record releases.”

Abdullah Ibrahim. Picture: Supplied

The 89-year-old musician said he couldn’t wait to return to Cape Town.

“Cape Town is and has always been both my physical and creative home with the global narratives linked in the African continent, diaspora and as far as Japan - an ancient story.

“The Cape Town concert with my US band Ekaya, will include solo piano and trio highlights from my new album ‘3’ and includes dedications to some of our unsung heroes.”

Hosting his ‘The water from an ancient well tour’ in South Africa, is a desired opportunity that Abdullah feels is needed at his age.

“To be launching my M7 Foundation in Johannesburg, playing concerts in Pretoria’s new state-of-the-art arena and uniquely returning to performing inside City Hall – an illustrious venue I first played at aged 16 for a segregated audience; is something that at one time was unimaginable. I am honoured and thrilled to have the opportunity.”

Over the course of his career, the music icon has performed with South African greats on the legendary jazz scene including his work with Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba, Jonas Gwangwa, Kippie Moeketsi among others.

“As I embrace my 90th year, I am delighted to be undertaking these concerts, for me, they are a deeply personal dream - envisaged first many years ago.

“Perhaps when as a free South African I bought land, or perhaps so many years before that when I was forced to exile? But certainly, I was thrown into sharp relief during the Covid pandemic, when I wondered if, or when, I would see ‘home’ again”.

With a keen eye on the South African music scene and how it evolved over the years, Abdullah said: “In our genre, the constant evolution rests solely in the individual. In every era there is a musician who takes the tradition into a new direction. Most important, is for the younger musician to have a full grasp and understanding of the past tradition.”

Recently, Abdullah released his latest album titled “3”, it's a recording of two sets from London’s Barbican Hall. Cleave Guyton Jr (on flute and piccolo), Noah Jackson (on bass and cello) make up the trio and are featured on both sets with Abdullah. ‘3’ includes the much-loved tracks ‘Nisa’, ‘Barakat’ and more and comprises both the London performances.

Show dates are 12 April at City Hall in Cape Town and 14 April at the SunBet Arena at Time Square in Menlyn.

Tickets are available via TicketPro from R750.