Abdullah Ibrahim (Dollar Brand)
Tonight I share one of those records that just must be in every music lover’s collection: African Marketplace by Dollar Brand as he was known before he changed his name to Abdullah Ibrahim.
Brian Ahlberg, an old Minnesota leftie, who last time I checked was Senator Tom Larkin’s right hand advisor, a gig he took after the untimely death of America’s most left leaning recent politician, Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, introduced me to this record many moons ago.
At the time Brian and I shared an old rambling house in South Minneapolis with two musician siblings, a video artist and a neurotic cat. Like most student houses we rarely saw each other but quite regularly Brian and I would take turns spinning records for each other late into the night. He spun many more worthy ones than I as he had a massive collection from his days of labouring behind the counter of one of Minneapolis’s hip record shops.
Instantly he played this I fell in love. Mainly because it was music of a hot climate and I was encaged in the frozen north lands of a wintry America. The loose, almost out of control music with blasting trombones, trumpets and sax and persistent drumming was about the closest thing I had heard to an Indian wedding band. I could see the chaos of the marketplace and the musicians pushing their way through the crowds. There seemed to be no order to the music except that there were these sweet songlines that kept reappearing when things seemed about to break at the seams.
This was jazz that wasn’t pretentious but rather earthy and joyful. Brian (never one to miss an opportunity to enlighten a political dullard) explained that this fabulous musician was one of South Africa’s greatest musicians who had been introduced to the west by none other than Duke Ellington who saw the young apartheid refugee perform in a Geneva club.
Apartheid was still ‘the system’ in South Africa in the mid-80’s. Like Makeba and Masakela, Ibrahim was an exile from his beloved country. And there didn’t appear to be much chance of an early return in those days. Mandela was still years away from being released. I could feel Ibrahim’s deep love and longing for his country in the music and that feeling is what made this album immediately stand out from the crowd. I shared a similar longing for the land of my birth and it never fails to bring alive the memories of childhood.
01 Whoza Mtwana
02 The Homecoming Song
03 The Wedding
05 African Marketplace
07 Anthem for the New Nation