Preview: Abdullah Ibrahim & Ekaya @ Barbican Centre (London; Sunday 25th November 2018)


The EFG London Jazz Festival will once again see the return of the formidable Abdullah Ibrahim and his band Ekaya. Having performed twice before at the EFG London Jazz Festival this is not a one-off chance to see a legend, but it is still one of the highlights of the festival. Ibrahim is a South African pianist who has been playing and making music since the 50s under the name Dollar Brand.

Being at the forefront of jazz for so long, and being such an accomplished composer and player, there is no question of the quality he will bring to the stage. It is always a luxury to see an artist of this calibre and something the Jazz Festival has really become associated with. You will be able to experience the gentle way Ibrahim brings together jazz, South African folk and bebop to deliver his own brand of South African protest jazz. If you need an introduction to his music, you won’t find a more complete and moving album than Underground in Africa from 1974.

The Barbican is, without a doubt, the place to see such an artist: its unique seating makes you feel like you are right in the front row, no matter where in the 1,943-person capacity hall you are. It also offers a quality sound and a relaxed environment that will encourage you to close your eyes and let Ibrahim take you to Johannesburg circa 1950.

Something that will make this show particularly special is that it is part of a celebration of Hugh Masekela, who died in January. As well as a show dedicated to the South African giant of jazz, you can except Ibrahim to offer us some of the delights of Masekela’s work through his own voice on the piano.

Ibrahim was an exile during apartheid and spent time in New York and with some of the contemporary jazz musicians like Archie Shepp and Pharaoh Sanders. Ibrahim’s music fuses the two very different worlds of South Africa and New York, creating jazz which is full of expression and texture, taking the listener from Johannesburg to Harlem with free moving, politically motivated piano solos.

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