He is a jazz visionary and a piano master inspired by America’s legendary composer and pianist Duke Ellington. So, any other adjective I can add about the music of the gifted South African pianist, flutist, composer and bandleader Abdullah Ibrahim would be redundant. His inspiring music was one of the driving forces behind the anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa.
Ibrahim, also known as “Dollar Brand”, was a strong opponent of the apartheid regime. He was arrested several times, but before leaving South Africa for exile, he wrote and recorded his masterpiece: “Mannenberg”. The song became a stirring vamp and the anthem of the anti-apartheid movement following the Soweto uprising in June 1976.
His music inspired then-imprisoned African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela. All types of music were banned in jails, but a lawyer for Mandela managed to smuggle some of Ibrahim’s music inside the prison prison and played it in the control room.
“Judy smuggled in Mannenberg,” recalls Ibrahim in an interview with VOA’s Jazz Beat. “When President Mandela heard this song, he said liberation is near.”