Tag Archives: Abdullah Ibrahim

Today’s Destiny, and May It be Happy, Abdullah Ibrahim

My friend Abdullah Ibrahim turned 83 today. Of the many possibilities for experiential learning he served my way in the late eighties, the most essential was that the next breath possibly might turn out to be the last such breath.

Abdullah Ibrahim from Ian Henderson on Vimeo.

A man in prison is sent a prayer rug by his friend. What he had wanted, of course, was a file or a crowbar or a key! But he began using the rug, doing five-times prayer before dawn, at noon, mid-afternoon, after sunset, and before sleep. Bowing, sitting up, bowing again, he notices an odd pattern in the weave of the rug, just at the qibla, the point, where his head touches. He studies and meditates on that pattern, gradually discovering that it is a diagram of the lock that confines him in his cell and how it works. He’s able to escape. Anything you do every day can open into the deepest spiritual place, which is freedom.
— Coleman Barks, The Essential Rumi

800px-Abdullah_Ibrahim

Abdullah refashioned a teaching story and transmitted the best version. I’ve revised it a bit due to some additional understanding gained over the intervening years.

A hunter was in the jungle hunting when he heard in the distance a beautiful bird song. He slowly and quietly made his way to the song’s source. Standing in the brush near a tall tree he spotted a gorgeous bird singing a song the hunter was the most beautiful melody he’s ever heard a bird sing. He set a snare, and the next day came back and found the bird trapped. With a great deal of respect and care he brought the bird back with him to his country place.

The hunter outfitted a large cage and hung the cage with the bird in it in a sunlit corner with windows on both sides. The bird was quiet for many weeks after first being housed in the cage. However, eventually, the bird began piecing together bits of melodies. After beginning to do this, a few weeks later, the bird began singing the songs that had so captured the hunter’s attention in the jungle.

Yet, the songs seemed much sadder to the hunter than the original melodies. He reflected on this and decided the bird was lonely. So it was the hunter decided to return to the jungle and track down a bird like the bird in the cage, and bring it back as a companion.

The hunter returned to the same location in the jungle where he had first heard the marvelous bird songs. Not right away, but soon enough, the hunter one morning heard a similar song. He tracked the melody to another tall tree. From some nearby bushes he stood quietly observing the singing bird on a branch high up the tree. Then something shattering happened, mid song the bird fell out of the tree and landed with a soft thud in the undergrowth.

The hunter was shocked and dismayed as he made his way to the now still and silent bird. He gently picked it up. It was dead. The hunter was so moved and so deeply startled by this that, after burying the bird, he abandoned his search.

He returned to his farm. Walking into the room where the caged bird was singing, he sat on the shoulder of a couch next to the cage. To himself, the hunter recounted what had happened in the jungle. When he finished, the bird stopped singing. Then it fell off its perch to the floor of the cage. The hunter was instantly beside himself. He opened the door of the cage and picked up the still bird.

Then, as he was about to pronounce the bird dead, the bird instantly fluttered a second and then flew out of his hand and flew out an open window, and flew to a branch on a nearby tree, and, started singing a fresh and glorious song.

(The title of this story is: Thanks for the Message!)

Dr. Ibrahim and me, 1989, Middlebury Vermont

Dr. Ibrahim and me, 1989, Middlebury Vermont

Speaking of my current chapter as an artist, Abdullah Ibrahim’s influence on my creative mission is certain and very direct. Yes, for me, my art is about providing an opportunity for a small moment of positive feeling. I also have redeployed many times his self-evaluative question: What are your four highest art forms that you practice?

FB-Yayiqandusela-16x16-Stephen-Calhoun(2016)

At 83, Abdullah Ibrahim, the ‘africanizer of Ellington,’ remains one of the masters of contemporary and ancient music. The tour video above from a few weeks ago speaks for itself. Ibrahim lives today with his honey in Switzerland.

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Legacy Art Works #7 – Table Mountain 1&2

Table Mountain 1
(2010) Table Mountain 1

Table Mountain 2
(2010) Table Mountain 2

Table Mountain looks over Cape Town, South Africa. Because of my association with Abdullah Ibrahim it became one of those places that would arise in dreams.

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Deeply 80th Birthday Abdullah Ibrahim

Advise: click on the start triangle above for your momentary soundtrack. Thank you.

I wrote this fifteen years ago.

For over forty years people all over the world have received and been touched by the artistry and music of Dr. Abdullah Ibrahim. Not to stop there, however; the multitude of musical gifts of the African tradition, and, more generally, the gifts of the deeply abiding traditions of peoples’ musics and arts, are vital harmonizing mediums for the sensitive souls of people. Many people allow the artistry of such providers of joyful nutrition to make an essential, sympathetic impression on their own life and creative work.

Here’s a curious thought. In the past year I have been reflecting upon and gathering impressions having to do with, first, my being subjected to experiential learning, and, secondly, coming to understand how it is framed as a modality of constructive transformation in the West.

What I was subjected to for several years was not Western, but it was presumably outfitted for me, the American. Then, under the tutelage and mentorship of Judith Buerkel (1996,) and soon enough, after gaining some knowledge and understanding of the field, I began to reckon with the overlap between applications, learnings, and the means given by, in effect, Western psychology, to understand what it is for a person to experientially learn.

For example, there is some overlap of western theory with this thought:

“Inspiration is a stream of wonder and bewilderment. Music should be healing, music should uplift the soul, music should inspire. The thought attached to things is a life power. In order to define it, it may be called a vibratory power. There is a thought attached to all things made either by an individual or the multitude, and that thought will give results accordingly. The influence put into things is according to the intensity of the feeling, as a note resounds according to the intensity with which you strike it. So it is according to the medium that you take in striking vibrations that the effect is made. In all things there is God, but the object is the instrument, and man is life itself. Into the object a person puts life. When a certain thing is made, it is at that time that life is put into it which goes on and on like breath in a body.” Pir Hazrat Inayat Khan

At the same time, for me, there is a very large non-overlapping area. Question: what has music meant for you?

Abdullah Ibrahim reached 80 today. One thing hasn’t changed over the years, A.I. remains 241 months older than me per the way the calendar differentiates the distinction. Otherwise, comparably, I am a child. When I think of Ibrahim I think secondly of his music, and, firstly of his several lessons. One lesson: everything is always completely at stake. 

(A sufi once, with nothing on his mind, was – without warning – struck at from behind. He turned and murmured, choking back the tears: “The man you hit has been dead for thirty years. He’s left this world!” The man who’d struck him said: “You talk a lot for someone who is dead! But talk’s not action – while you boast, you stray Further and further from the secret Way, And while a hair of you remains, your heart And Truth are still a hundred worlds apart.” Burn all you have, all that you thought and knew (Even your shroud must go; let that burn too); Then leap into the flames, and as you burn Your pride will falter, you’ll begin to learn. But keep one needle back and you will meet A hundred thieves who force you to retreat Think of that tiny needle which became The negligible cause of Jesus’ shame). As you approach this stage’s final veil, Kingdoms and wealth, substance and water fail; Withdraw into yourself, and one by one Give up the things you own – when this is done, Be still in selflessness and pass beyond All thoughts of good and evil; break this bond, And as it shatters you are worthy of Oblivion, the Nothingness of love.)

Lie down beside the flowing stream
and see Life passing by and know
That of the world’s transient nature
this one sign is enough for us

Hafez, r.a

It’s a very hard lesson.

Over on the nogutsnoglory blog I am celebrating the artistry and ongoing vitality of Abdullah Ibrahim with a series of posts, all of which are restorations of archival posts from the defunct Mantra Modes blog. Should you begin with the first post from today MAGIC EIGHTY and work your way through to the last post, you will end up at the gateway of the opportunity to engage Abdullah Ibrahim’s musical artistry. Of course, this is possible only if you haven’t already engaged his artistry. Everybody with a sensitive soul would do well to engage his artistry.

I’ve provided an initial opportunity at the head of this post. Dr. Ibrahim is arguably among the the deepest musicians that the continent of Africa has so far produced. (The continent of Africa has been producing sonically creative persons for tens of thousands of years. Music was likely born in the Kalahari.) His ongoing international career began in 1964. Happy fiftieth birthday too!

As he told me, in the olden times, in the African village, children of exceptional musical talent became healers.

Ah! Death! Life! Our communication is on a completely different level. See, if we talk about music (Ibrahim plays a few notes on the piano), we are dealing with the unseen. We are fortunate that in Africa we have old people who understand the dynamic of the unseen. We study with them. Music is dealing in the realm of the unseen. It is much deeper as people think when they “see us play some notes”. It is a deeply spiritual practice. But look at jazz musicians now, everything in modern society is misplaced. I mean you are interviewing me with a tape recorder. Now, that is misplaced – not that I want to put you down – but you are supposed to use other means of communication. In some ways this is stupid. It is the same with musicians, we are supposed to be entertainers, but in traditional societies we were priests. In any traditional societiy, anybody that shows musical implanation was immediately drafted into medicine. My great grandfather was a healer. He tought us everything about herbs, plants and flowers and what you are supposed to do wit them. We as musicians living in this modern urban society … All my family were religious practioners. They came from traditional practice and when the white people came they went into the church. I was the first one that became a musician and became muslim. It has all to do with healing and spiritual practices. (interview with Abdullah Ibrahim)

800px-Abdullah_Ibrahim

(2001) Abdullah Ibrahim, born in South Africa in 1934, remembering hearing traditional African songs, religious music and jazz as a child – all of which are reflected in his music. He received his first piano lessons in 1941 and became a professional musician in 1949 (Tuxedo Slickers, Willie Max Big Band). In 1959 he met alto saxophone player Kippi Moeketsi who convinced him to devote his life to music. He meets and soon marries South African jazz vocalist Sathima Bea Benjamin in 1965.

In 1962 the Dollar Brand Trio (with Johnny Gertze on bass, Makaya Ntshoko on drums) tours Europe. Duke Ellington listens in at Zurich’s Africana Club and sets a recording session for Reprise Records: Duke Ellington presents the Dollar Brand Trio. 1963/64 sees the trio at major European festivals, including TV shows and radio performances.

In 1965 Dollar Brand plays the Newport Jazz Festival followed by a first tour through the United States. In 1966 he leads the Duke Ellington Orchestra: ›I did five dates substituting for him. It was exciting, but very scary, I could hardly play.‹ Other than six months playing with the Elvin Jones Quartet Abdullah Ibrahim (who changed his name after his conversion to Islam in the late 1960s) has been a band leader ever since. 1968 sees a solo piano tour. From then on he has continuously playing concerts and clubs throughout the US, Europe and Japan with appearances at the major music festivals of the world (e.g. Montreux, North Sea, Berlin, Paris, Montreal etc.). A world traveller since 1962, Ibrahim went back to South Africa in the mid- 1970s but found conditions so oppressive that he went back to New York in 1976.

In 1988 Ibrahim wrote the award-winning sound track for the film ›Chocolat‹ (released on ENJ-50732 ›Mindif‹) which was followed by further endeavors in film music the latest being the sound track to ›No Fear, No Die‹ (TIP-888815 2).

An eloquent spokesman and deeply religious, Abdullah Ibrahim’s beliefs and experiences are reflected in his music. ›The recent changes in South Africa are of course very welcome, it has been so long in coming. We would like a total dismantling of apartheid and the adoption of a democratic non-racist society: it seems to be on the way.‹ In 1990, Ibrahim returned to South Africa to live there but keeps up his New York residence as well. Several tours took him around the globe featuring his groups and also doing much acclaimed solo piano recitals. 1997 saw the beginning of a duet cooperation with the dean of jazz drums, Max Roach.

Later projects (1997 and 1998) are of a large scale nature. Swiss composer Daniel Schnyder arranged Abdullah Ibrahim’s compositions for a 22 piece string orchestra (members of the Youth Orchestra of the European Community) for a CD recording and a Swiss Television SF-DRS production and also for the full size Munich Radio Philharmonic Orchestra again for CD production and for concert performances featuring the Abdullah Ibrahim Trio.

The world premiere of the symphonic piece was at the renowned Herkules Saal in Munich, Germany on January 18th 1998, under the direction of Barbara Yahr and the Zuricher Kammerorchester premiered the string orchestra version at Zurich’s Tonhalle in February 1998. The string orchestra version was released in September 1998 (›African Suite‹, TIP-8888322) and met widest critical acclaim from the worlds of both jazz and classical music. The symphonic version (›African Symphony‹) has been released in 2001 in a double CD set which also features Abdullah Ibrahim with the NDR Big Band giving the full scope of his large format music.

Another highlight was the premiere of ›Cape Town Traveller‹, a multimedia produc- tion at the Leipzig music festival in 1999. A one hour performance featured A.I. and the Ekaya Sextet, a vocal group, filmmaterial from the early days in South Africa and the European years, electronic sounds ranging from impressionism to drum and bass – a great experience. One of the newest albums is ›Revesited‹ (TIP-88888362), recorded live in Cape Town. The piano of A.I. is featured with Marcus McLaurine (b) and Georg Gray (dr) and added is the fiery trumpet of South African Feya Faku on several tracks.

A great honor has been bestowed on Abdullah Ibrahim when the renowned Greham College in London invited him to give several lectures and concerts (beginning in October 2000 at Canary Wharf). Among his predecessors at the famed institution which looks back at a history of 500 years are John Cage, Luciano Berio, Xenakis. (from the press kit for Abdullah Ibrahim, A Struggle for Love, A film by Ciro Cappellari)

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Mantra Modes Revived

Mantra Modes

Mantra Modes, The Artistry of Abdullah Ibrahim, was one of my very first web initiatives. It was developed in 1996 and then published as part of the old Hoon Web. I have dragged it into the 21st century after the site had been off the stove top for six years.

Mantra Modes is attached to the squareONE web domain, and linked via nogutsnoglory studios, my music-oriented blog. I also hope to give some attention to Rhythm River, the squareONE site focused on the Rhythm River imaginal musicology experiential learning tool.

If you are unfamiliar with Abdullah Ibrahim, he is without any question the most sophisticated and subtle–and it could be argued–important, musician the continent of Africa has produced so far. Born in South Africa in 1934, Ibrahim, once known as Dollar Brand, returned to a free South Africa in 1995. He has been playing, performing and recording his distinctive South African people’s music since the late fifties.

I could go on and on about Dr. Ibrahim because he is second-to-none for me. Suffice to hope you’ll investigate his artistry anyway you can. I’ll be slowly updating the Mantra Modes blog. | RSS |


Here’s a taste via youtube.

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