Abdullah Ibrahim (aka Dollar Brand)

Thanks to John Moyle from the 1973 Nimbin Film Collective, here is a recording of the music performed by the South African pianist and composer, Abdullah Ibrahim (aka Dollar Brand), during the Aquarius Festival in May 1973.

Born Adolph Johannes Brand in 1934, he was formerly known as Dollar Brand until the mid-1970s.

Abdullah Ibrahim began his career in his home country of South Africa playing in a big swing band, forming his own trio, and then recording in a modern jazz sextet called the Jazz Epistles. This music was released in 1961, but soon afterwards, the political situation in South Africa led to the break up of the band, and Ibrahim (under the name Dollar Brand) moved to Switzerland, playing in a trio and accompanying the singer Sathima Bea Benjamin, whom he later married in 1965.

Duke Ellington heard the group, arranged for it to record, and later brought Ibrahim to the United States, where he appeared at the Newport festival, toured with Elvin Jones and led his own groups. Gradually, Ibrahim's distinctive style began to emerge - music that recalled the sounds of South Africa, and mixed his country's vocal and harmonic traditions with the rhythmic feeling and improvisation of jazz.

In the late 1960s, he spent time in South Africa, Europe and the United States, but from 1977 until the end of Apartheid, he was mainly based in New York. He briefly returned to South Africa in the mid-1970s after his conversion to Islam (and the resultant change of name from Dollar Brand to Abdullah Ibrahim); however, he soon returned to New York in 1976 after finding the political situation too oppressive in his home country.

Since 1990 he has split his time between South Africa and New York. From 1983 he has led a group called Ekaya (which means 'home') as well as various trios, occasional big bands and many special projects.

Central to his music is the idea that his compositions can be learned by ear - he seldom uses written scores - and that his pieces build from simple beginnings to huge and exciting sounds. He also continues to play solo piano, using techniques from all areas of piano history from the boogie woogie that first inspired him to play jazz to the more modern sounds of his mentor Ellington and a player he greatly admired, Thelonious Monk.

Abdullah Ibrahim has written the soundtracks for a number of films, including the award-winning Chocolat (1988), and 1990's No Fear, No Die. Since the ending of apartheid, he has lived in Cape Town, and now divides his time between his global concert circuit, New York, and South Africa.

He also took part in the 2002 documentary Amandla!: A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony, where he and others recalled the days of apartheid.

Ibrahim's song "African Marketplace" has achieved such widespread popularity that the Swedish Communist Party always plays it at demonstrations and meetings. Ibrahim continues to perform internationally, mainly in Europe, and with occasional shows in North America.

Ibrahim appeared in a television documentary in Japan that aired on 26 June 2010, on NHK-BS. In the program, he performed his compositions in several beautiful spots in South Africa, playing a piano set on the ground that resonated deeply with the majestic natural surroundings.

Listen to Dollar Brand playing at the Nimbin Aquarious Festival in May 1973 (5 minutes 31 seconds)