The work of pianist, composer and anti-apartheid activist Abdullah Ibrahim reflects his exposure to a multiple cultural influences: from African traditional music, Christian hymns, gospel tunes and spirituals to American jazz and township and classical music. Out of this blend of the secular and the religious, the traditional and the modern, Ibrahim’s distinctive sound and musical vocabulary were born.
For over 50 years, Ibrahim has appeared at major concert halls, clubs and festivals as a soloist or part of a trio or septet. He has collaborated with classical orchestras, notably the European Youth Orchestra, Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, Film Orchestra Babelsberg, Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra and Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, and worked on big band projects with Danish Radio and German broadcasters Norddeutscher and Westdeutscher Rundfunk.
Ibrahim has recorded over 100 albums and written 300 compositions. Recent albums include Solotude (2020), Dream Time (2019) and The Balance (2019), with Ekaya. His early work Jazz Epistle, Verse 1 (1959) was the first jazz album by Black South Africans. He has composed soundtracks for Chocolat (1998), No Fear, No Die (1990) and Tilai (1990). He was also featured in the documentary Amandla!: A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony (2002).
His album Mannenberg – ‘Is Where It’s Happening’ (1974) became the unofficial anthem for Black South Africans in the struggle against apartheid. Other related projects include Knysna Blue (1993), with a ballad to his home city of Cape Town; Mantra Modes (1991), his first recording with South African musicians since 1976; the musical Cape Town, South Africa (1983); and the Kalahari Liberation Opera (1982).
Among Ibrahim’s many acknowledgments and honorary doctorates are The Order of the Rising Sun (2020), which was conferred by the Emperor of Japan in recognition of his lifetime achievement in emancipating the people of South Africa and the world through his music and his contribution to Japanese-South African friendship. He was also named a 2019 NEA Jazz Master and received a Critics Award from The Wire for the album Water from an Ancient Well (1986).
Born in 1934 in Cape Town, Ibrahim lives and works between South Africa and Germany.

SAF participation:
March Meeting 2023