It’s less a concert and more witnessing a master thoughtfully creating an atmosphere, a vibe. And for 13 short minutes, I feel seated in Abdullah Ibrahim’s home in Chiemgau, Germany, witnessing seven decades of experience slowly dripping from his fingers and touching my soul.
Abdullah Ibrahim, now 87, has witnessed the horrors of apartheid. He grew up in South Africa and composed what would become known as the “anti-apartheid anthem,” “Mannenberg.” Nelson Mandela called him “our Mozart.” He also successfully made music under the name Dollar Brand, and worked with jazz legends including Duke Ellington, Max Roach, Don Cherry and Archie Shepp. In 1968, he converted to Islam and changed his name from Dollar Brand; more recently, he became an NEA Jazz Master. In my 18 years directing All Things Considered, I’d often reach for his music to play between news stories to give the audience a chance to think and reflect. His music is like that; it’s mind-opening.