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Abdullah Ibrahim

Since signing his first record deal under the patronage of Duke Ellington in 1964, South African jazz legend Abdullah Ibrahim has made a staggering fifty-two albums as pianist and bandleader and has played a central role in his country’s twentieth-century musical and political landscape. Born into the rich culture of pre-Apartheid Cape Town, the eighty-one year old Ibrahim — who was once known by the name Dollar Brand — absorbed the songs of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the burgeoning marabi tradition in the townships, and, of course, American jazz.

His piano playing casts broad, hymn-like strokes with hints of Ellington’s colorful orchestrations in Ekaya, his seven-piece ensemble. After a 2014 performance at New York’s Schomburg Center, Ben Ratliff of The New York Times said of the music, “It reached the audience as if it were a music never heard before, and did so by degrees: first like a history lesson, then like a party, then like a deep and serious matter.”