Abdullah Ibrahim Biography

(Pianist, Composer)

Birthday: October 9, 1934 (Libra)

Born In: Cape Town

Born Adolph Johannes Brand, the famous South African pianist and composer, Abdullah Ibrahim became popular as Dollar Brand. He began his professional career in the mid-50s and formed a band Jazz Epistles. During a long visit to Europe, he caught the attention of Duke Ellington. This was a turning point in his career and led to numerous appearances in the USA. He began to live in New York City, and played with leading exponents. He continued to be involved in politics, converted to Islam, and adopted the name Abdullah Ibrahim. The banning of the African National Congress made it difficult for Ibrahim to return permanently to his homeland, but he went there occasionally for recording sessions. His composition ‘Mannenberg’ became the anthem for the fight against apartheid in South Africa. Nelson Mandela admired Abdullah Ibrahim’s music and called him “South Africa’s Mozart”. He explored African music and merged it with contemporary American jazz. His composition for the opera, ‘Kalahari Liberation’, won great acclaim. His band Ekaya has recorded and performed in several concerts and festivals. He has also composed music for two French films. His music is mirrored in the album, ‘African Suite’, reflecting his African origins, Islamic faith, European residence, and his jazz passion.
Quick Facts

Also Known As: Dollar Brand, Adolph Johannes Brand

Age: 89 Years, 89 Year Old Males


Spouse/Ex-: Sathima Bea Benjamin

children: Jean Grae, Tsakwe Brand

Pianists Black Pianists

Cause of Death: Accident

City: Cape Town, South Africa

More Facts

education: NA

Childhood & Early Life
Born Adolph Johannes Brand, Abdullah Ibrahim began taking piano lessons at seven. He grew up hearing African Khoi-san songs and the Christian hymns. His grandmother was a church pianist, and his mother, a choir-singer.
After passing matriculation, he became a school-teacher. He quit his job to study music at the Cape Town University, but quit midway as the music taught there did not match his taste.
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When he was 15, Abdullah Ibrahim turned professional backed by local bands; he became popular as Dollar Brand. In 1958, he formed the Dollar Brand Trio which included Johnny Gertze and Makaya Ntshok.
In 1959, he formed the band, Jazz Epistles, with saxophonist Kippie Moeketsi, trumpeter Hugh Masekela, trombonist Jonas Gwanga, bassist Johnny Gertze and drummer Makaya Ntshoko), and recorded their first album, 'Jazz Epistle, Verse 1'.
In 1962, with apartheid at its peak, Dollar Brand Trio members, along with vocalist Sathima Bea Benjamin, left South Africa, and accepted a three-year contract at the Club Africana in Zurich.
In 1963, Sathima Benjamin persuaded the legendary Duke Ellington to listen to them play at Club Africana. The result was ‘Duke Ellington presents The Dollar Brand Trio’ released by Reprise Records.
He performed at the Newport Jazz Festival and Carnegie Hall, and in 1966, substituted as the leader of the Ellington Orchestra in five concerts. He toured with the Elvin Jones Quartet for six months.
In 1967, a Rockefeller Foundation grant enabled him to enroll at the Juilliard School of Music. In America, he could meet musicians such as Don Cherry, John Coltrane, Pharaoh Sanders, and Archie Shepp.
In 1968, he returned to Cape Town, and converted to Islam. His involvement in martial arts also gave him much comfort. He established a music school in Swaziland and spent two years there.
In 1968, he toured America, Europe, and Japan. He performed at music festivals, including the Montreux Jazz Festival, the North Sea Festival, and in Berlin, Paris, and Canada.
Between 1965 and 1968, he released four albums including, ‘Anatomy of a South African Village’,’ This is Dollar Brand’, ‘The Dream’, and ‘Hamba Khale’ with Gato Barbieri.
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He and his wife Sathima set up the record company Ekapa in 1981 to produce their own music. During the decade, he contributed to Garth Fagan’s ballet ‘Prelude’ and the ‘Kalahari Liberation Opera’.
He formed a septet with altos Carlos Ward, tenor-saxophonist Ricky Ford, baritonist Charles Davis, trombonist Dick Griffin, bassist Cecil McBee, and drummer Ben Riley that featured in the 1983 musical, ‘Cape Town, South Africa’.
In 1987, he performed a memorial concert for Marcus Garvey held in Westminster Cathedral, London. Garvey, a Jamaican, was a firm believer of Black Nationalism and Pan-Africanism.
He wrote the soundtracks for two Claire Denis directed French films – ‘Chocolat’ (a 1988 film about a French family living in colonial Cameroon) and ‘No Fear, No Die’, released two years later.
He ended the 25 November, 1989 episode of ‘After Dark’, a British late night live discussion program` broadcast on Channel 4 television, with a long piano jazz improvisation.
After his release from prison, Nelson Mandela invited the pianist back to South Africa. The emotions were captured in two albums – ‘Mantra Modes’ and ‘Knysna Blue’, and also performed at Mandela’s presidential inauguration.
In the 2002 documentary film, ‘Amandla! A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony’, he was one of the many South African musicians who spoke of their struggles against apartheid and their part in that struggle.
From 2000 to 2009, he released albums including ‘Cape Town Revisited’ ‘Ekapa Lodumo’, ‘African Magic’, ‘Senzo’, and ‘Bombella’. These albums revisited some of his earlier works and also presented new tunes.
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Major Works
Ibrahim composed the 1974 album, ‘Mannenberg - "Is Where It's Happening"’ consisting of two long cuts "Mannenberg" and "The Pilgrim" became a great hit. Mannenburg became the anthem of those fighting against apartheid.
His 1999 album, ‘African Suite’ backed by the Youth Orchestra arranged by Daniel Schnyder was a reworking of Ibrahim’s compositions, and reflective of his South African origin, Islamic faith, European residence, and jazz passion.
Abdullah Ibrahim was presented the South African Music Lifetime Achievement Award in a ceremony in 2007 at the Sun City Super Bowl. The awards are given by the Recording Industry of South Africa.
He was awarded the Best Male Artist for his album, ‘Senzo’, at the 15th Annual MTN South African Music Awards in 2009 at the Sun City Super Bowl.
In 2009, the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg conferred upon him an Honorary Doctorate of Music. He was presented the Order of Ikhamanga by President Jacob Zuma of South Africa.
Personal Life & Legacy
Abdullah Ibrahim met Beatrice "Sathima Bea" Benjamin, a South African vocalist and composer, in 1959, and the two got married six years later. The couple has two children – rapper Jean Grae, and pianist Tsakwe.
This legendary South African pianist was the subject of two documentaries – A Brother with Perfect Timing, and A Struggle for Love.
This South African jazz musician said, “People say that slaves were taken from Africa. This is not true: People were taken from Africa, among them healers and priests, and were made into slaves”

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