| Abdullah Ibrahim Picture by Pradip Sanyal
Calcutta, Feb. 5: The warm applause that greeted South African openers Kepler Wessels and Jimmy Cook as they emerged from the visitors’ dressing room at the Eden Gardens on November 10, 1991, must have left them wondering if they were at the Wanderers. Two nations had cheered as one, the return of the Springboks to the world of cricket from apartheid wilderness.
More than a decade on, a jazz pianist, whose soulful music out of South Africa has moved audiences worldwide for years, has marked his run-up to carry that historic tie forward.
Abdullah Ibrahim, who listens to birds as he makes music, this evening dedicated his anti-apartheid anthem Mannenburg and the very contemporary Blue Bolero at Kala Mandir to “the people of Calcutta”. More important, he will be back next year to strengthen the “special bond” between the two people.
South Africa’s foremost jazz messenger, who believes in “connecting on a basic human level” with his music, will return to Calcutta next February. “It will be a big live show to celebrate the very special relationship we have with Calcutta and the way the people of this historic city stood behind the South Africans in their struggle against apartheid,” says the 68-year-old Ibrahim, born Adolphe Brand.
“Calcutta evokes special emotions in all South Africans, since it hosted our cricket team’s comeback,” smiles the former “part-time leggie and number-four bat” who played club cricket in Western Province in his youth.
“It was like a dream fulfilled, with the entire nation getting together behind the team. We go back a long way and my Calcutta project is an effort to acknowledge those deep ties.”
His recording label Enja Records will be there to put on disc the milestone February 2004 gig, for which the master composer has already started writing. Ibrahim, who was in Calcutta 10 years ago with his seven-piece band for JazzFest, is keen to also involve television in his solidarity show that will involve local musicians, too.
Ibrahim, who wrote the award-winning soundtrack for Chocolat, and whose older pieces like The Mountain and The Wedding, besides Mannenburg, have become “almost like second national anthems in South Africa”, composed much of his barrier-breaking music while in exile.
“Those days were physically so hard. But there was a saving factor. Since I am a composer, I had a wellspring of information and experience that I could source in terms of writing music. So, I could always connect to Cape Town, my home, even while living in New York,” he recalls.
With persistent nods to jazz legends Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk in all his works — “you just can’t escape them” — and even a touch of African gospel, Ibrahim has been marrying previously unconnected sounds for years.
“In this global village, we are not isolated in our own traditions any more. Our domain is shrinking and expanding in one vein and my music spans everything between heaven and earth,” he says.
The jazzman’s three-city Indian tour (also covering Mumbai and Delhi) is part of the celebrations of 10 years of diplomatic ties between India and South Africa and is presented by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, the South African high commission, its consulate office in Calcutta and the Calcutta School of Music.