Abdullah Ibrahim’s solo performance at The Fugard last night was captivating! The beautiful piano was setup in a cozy theatre illuminated by soft blue lighting. With almost a sellout performance Ibrahim held delighted jazz enthusiasts captive with 1.5 hours of incredible uninterrupted sets. The distinguished musician’s performance was impeccable. He began with sheet music but quickly pushed it aside and played from his heart and soul.
At 82, Ibrahim’s fascinating life has been full – from his upbringing in Cape Town’s District Six to his political activism, spiritual enlightenment, friendship with Nelson Mandela, association with other famous jazz artists including Duke Ellington, Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba, and John Coltrane, extensive worldwide tours, and record and production companies.
“Ibrahim’s solo program Senzo is described as a monumental defining work. It transcends category, combining the intimate and universal in a unique way hinted at in its title. Senzo means ‘Ancestor’ in Chinese and Japanese. The word echoes the name of Ibrahim’s Sotho father, in whose language it translates as ‘Creator’.”
Baptized Adolph Johannes Brand, Ibrahim was born in 1934 in Cape Town. He grew up listening to traditional Khoisan songs, Christian hymns, and gospel tunes. His grandmother was the pianist for a local Methodist Episcopalian church. His mother was the choirmaster.
Ibrahim, who also sings, plays flute, saxophone, and cello, is legendary for solo performances that glide his compositions into long, unbroken sets.
Ibrahim’s mother was from a “coloured” (mixed-race) family. In adulthood he discovered that his Sotho father was murdered. Ibrahim says “There was heavy, simmering racism – anti-African feeling – in our communities. My grandparents gave me their name so I’d be classified as coloured. I thought they were my parents and grew up believing that my mother was my sister. That code of silence was created by the system. I had a lot of bitterness at an early age.”
“The Cape Town of Ibrahim’s childhood was a melting-pot of cultural influences, and exposed the young Dollar Brand, as he became known, to American jazz, township jive, Cape Malay sounds, and classical music. Out of this rich blend of the secular and religious, the traditional and modern, Ibrahim developed a distinctive style, harmonies, and musical vocabulary that are inimitably his own.”
Ibrahim began piano lessons at seven and made his professional début at fifteen. He played bebop with a Cape Town flavor and formed several bands including the Dollar Brand Trio and the Jazz Epistles. Formed in 1959, the Jazz Epistles included saxophonist Kippie Moeketsi, trumpeter Hugh Masekela, trombonist Jonas Gwanga, bassist Johnny Gertze, and drummer Makaya Ntshoko – all notable South African musicians. That year, he met and first performed with vocalist Sathima Bea Benjamin. They married six years later.
Ibrahim plays an increasing role as an educator in a still deeply traumatized country.
“After the notorious Sharpeville Massacre in 1960, mixed-race bands and audiences were defying increasingly strict apartheid laws. Jazz symbolized resistance, so the government closed a number of clubs and harassed the musicians. These were difficult times for musical development in South Africa. Some members of the Jazz Epistles fled to England with the London musical King Kong and stayed in exile.”
In 1962, with Mandela imprisoned and the ANC banned, Dollar Brand and Sathima Bea Benjamin left the country. Later, Gertze and Ntshoko joined them. The trio took a contract at the Club Africana in Zürich, Switzerland. There, in 1963, Sathima persuaded Duke Ellington to listen to them play. This led to a recording session in Paris – Duke Ellington presents the Dollar Brand Trio – followed by invitations to perform at European festivals and on television and radio.”
In 1965, the couple moved to New York and appeared at Carnegie Hall and the Newport Jazz Festival. In 1966 Dollar Brand led the Ellington Orchestra in five concerts followed by a six-month tour with the Elvin Jones Quartet. In 1967 Ibrahim received a Rockefeller Foundation grant to attend the renowned Julliard School of Music.
Life in the USA gave Ibrahim the opportunity to interact with progressive musicians, including Don Cherry, John Coltrane, Ekaya, and Pharaoh Sanders. In exile Ibrahim introduced his South African sounds to American musicians, including saxophonist Archie Shepp and drummer Max Roach. “Even though he was successful on the club circuit, by his insistence on a South African idiom he disseminated and created an appetite for South African music.”
In 1968 he returned to Cape Town, converted to Islam, and took the name Abdullah Ibrahim. In 1970 he made a pilgrimage to Mecca and then moved his family to Swaziland where he founded a music school. Ibrahim returned to Cape Town in 1973.
District Six was the hotbed of the jazz explosion, a “fantastic city within a city”
In 1974 Ibrahim recorded “Mannenberg – Is where It’s Happening” which soon became an unofficial national anthem for black South Africans. After the Soweto student uprising, in 1976, he organized an illegal ANC benefit concert. Before long he and his family left South Africa and returned to the freedom of New York again.
“In 1990 Nelson Mandela, freed from prison, invited him to come home to South Africa. He reflects the fraught emotions of acclimatizing there again in Mantra Mode (1991), the first recording with South African musicians since 1976, and Knysna Blue (1993). Ibrahim memorably performed at Mandela’s inauguration in 1994.”
Abdullah Ibrahim has been the subject of several documentaries. In 1986 a BBC film Chris Austin’s A Brother with Perfect Timing, and A Struggle for Love by Ciro Cappellari (2004). He has also composed scores for films, including the award-winning soundtrack for Claire Denis’s Chocolat (1988) and Idrissa Ouedraogo’s Tilai (1990).
For over a quarter-century Abdullah Ibrahim has toured the world extensively, appearing at major concert halls, clubs, and festivals. His collaborations with classical orchestras have resulted in acclaimed recordings, such as my favorite, African Suite.
Since he first fled South Africa in 1962, Ibrahim’s increasingly spiritual and meditative jazz has won followers across Europe, the US and Japan.
Currently Ibrahim divides his time between Cape Town and New York City. In addition to composing and performing, he started a South African production company, Masingita (Miracle), and established M7 Music Academy offering young minds and bodies courses in seven disciplines.
In 2006 he spearheaded the historic creation (backed by the South African Ministry of Arts and Culture) of the Cape Town Jazz Orchestra. “The eighteen-piece big band further strengthens the standing of South African music on the global stage.”
South Africa’s Abdullah Ibrahim is known as “a man of inspiration”.
Yesterday I attended a Cape Town Fringe Festival performance – The Emissary – at Alexander Bar and Café Theatre. Written and directed by South African playwright Louis Viljoen, the gripping two-actor play stars impressive award-winning actors Emily Child and Andrew Laubscher. The short production is a “dark study of a friendship rooted in a lie”.
“While waiting for her long-term boyfriend Patrick to return from an extended stay overseas, Delia agrees to meet Douglas, Patrick’s best friend, to discuss the tensions brewing between them since the beginning of their relationship. One of them is hiding something terrible and this is the night when old wounds and secrets resurface. What follows is an unnerving examination of two troubled people who think they know each other, but have no idea what awful things can lurk in the soul.”
Louis Viljoen Playwright and Director
Louis Viljoen is a Cape Town based playwright. He’s the Writer in Residence for The Fugard Theatre. No nonsense, self-taught Viljoen helped create the successful short-play initiative “Anthology” which had three successful seasons at the Alexander. He won Fleur Du Cap awards for his plays Champ (2013) and The Kingmakers (2015) and in 2015 the Rosalie van der Gucht Prize for New Directors for The Pervert Laura.
Emily Child Actress
Emily Child graduated from the University of Cape Town with a Theatre and Performance Degree. She performs independently and as a member of the acclaimed Cape Town based theatre troupe – The Mechanicals.
An accomplished actress, Child has won many awards and nominations, including the 2015 Fleur Du Cap for Best Actress for the role of “Laura” in Viljoen’s The Pervert Laura. Some of her other theatre projects include King Lear and Viljoen’s Champ which traveled to the Edinburgh International Fringe Festival in 2013.
In 2014 her one woman show, A Certain Lady, based on Dorothy Parker’s short stories and directed by playwright Greg Karvellas, performed around Cape Town. Recently Emily appeared in Born in the RSA at The Baxter Studio Theatre and Grahamstown Festival directed by Thoko Ntshinga. She also starred in UK playwright Mike Bartlett’s production Contractions performed at Alexander Theatre.
On camera Emily’s projects include the South African Film and Television Awards (SAFTA) winning series Armed Response and BBC’s youth series Young Leonardo. She stars in two compelling feature films to be released in 2017 – Director Craig Freimond’s Beyond the River and Shirley Adams written by South African filmmaker Oliver Hermanus.
Andrew Laubscher Actor
Andrew Laubscher is a Cape Town-based film and theatre actor. Andrew’s performance highlights include Mirror, Cosi, As You Like It, Antony and Cleopatra, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Scandinavian playwright Jorgen Lovborg’s play Lovborg’s Women.
In 2014 Andrew won the Fleur de Cap Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Musical for his performance as Riff-Raff in The Rocky Horror Show. His most recent work includes Anthology: Anti-Matter directed by Louis Viljoen and the compelling South African film Modder en Bloed – Blood and Glory in Afrikaans.
Laubscher graduated from the University of Cape Town’s School of Drama. He’s involved in children’s theatre, Shakespeare at Maynardville, and productions for The Mechanicals and The Pink Couch, including Mafeking Road, an adaption of short stories by South African writer Herman Charles Bosman.
The Emissary is a shocking play and the edgy performances of both actors were extraordinary! I planned to stay for dinner at the Café but was so taken by the performance needed to get outside and walk. I met a French tourist on the patio who was also reeling from the play and after a second viewing still dazzled by the high-quality acting.
This was the last run for The Emissary but several other plays are appearing at the Alexander. I enjoyed the atmosphere and will return for more entertaining performances by talented actors, playwrights, and directors in this theatre-rich city.
The Fugard Theatre’s powerful production A Steady Rain doesn’t disappoint. I attended the pre-opening of playwright Keith Huff’s award-winning Broadway hit last night and was transfixed by the high-quality performance! Before the Fugard run, actors Brent Palmer and Nicholas Pauling performed the two-man play for sold-out audiences at the Alexander Bar, Café & Theatre.
Palmer and Pauling are brilliant in the “gritty, rich, and entirely gripping noir tale of two morally compromised Chicago police officers whose inner need to serve and protect consumes them and rips them apart”. The play takes place with two actors and a simple set of three props (two chairs and a table) highlighted by excellent lighting. The scenes alternate between “separate monologues and present-moment dialogues” requiring the actors to memorize an incredible amount of text. They slay the Chicago accent!
After years as a successful actor, including a role in the television series Black Sails filmed in Cape Town, Adrian Collins makes his début directing the production. Collins and Palmer were Fleur du Cap award nominees this year for Best New Director and Best Actor.
A Steady Rain takes the audience on a “riveting, relentless journey”. Huff uses “razor-sharp story-telling” to portray the tormented lives of two Chicago police officers, Joey and Denny, who are longtime beat partners and childhood friends.
“Joey and Denny have serious problems. Joey struggles with alcohol while he secretly obsesses over Denny’s wife. Denny is resentful, aggressive, and a racist cheater. During the course of the compelling and devastating narrative, the audience is kept white-knuckled right until the moment the lights go down”.
The plot recounts a real-life event involving infamous serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer’s encounter with the Chicago Police. It focuses on the policemen who “unknowingly return a Vietnamese boy to the cannibalistic serial killer who claims to be the child’s uncle”. When the boy becomes Dahmer’s latest victim the two partners are pressured to take responsibility for their gross negligence in assessing the situation. As the play unravels it reaches a critical point threatening their friendship.
Writer, director, and actor, Brent Palmer is a native of the Western Cape. He grew up in Grassy Park, a suburb of Cape Town in Cape Flats. He trained to be an actor in London. Palmer has appeared in TV and film and stared in theater productions at the Baxter, Artscape, Fugard, Maynardville, and University of Cape Town’s Little Theatre.
Palmer has written four plays. Two of his plays – Bench and Witness – won Fleur Du Cap awards. The multi-talented Palmer is also a stand-up comedian. He appears at local theatres and has directed and co-written shows for other comedians.
Produced in Chicago in 2007, the acclaimed play won multiple awards. It made its Broadway début in September 2009 starring Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig.
In a compelling and right-on-the money review of the play Steven Oxman of Variety (magazine) observed, “Keith Huff’s cracker jack two-hander … turns out to be less like the perpetual drizzle of its title and more like a snowball that builds to an avalanche. While Huff starts with a couple of familiar characters — good cop/bad cop Chicago patrolmen with alcohol and racism issues — he deepens them into complex figures, compellingly human even at their most despicable. The adroit character development combines with a billowing narrative to deliver some rattling emotional crescendos…. While he could maybe pull back on a contrivance or two, the playwright smartly sticks to his conceit of piling one worse complication on top of another, effectively investing A Steady Rain with genuine dramatic power and a sense of true outrage.”
Loose strands of the spellbinding plot draw together in the play’s masterful. It wasn’t light entertainment but gripping, well-performed drama at its very best. Cape Town has provided an incredibly rich live-theatre experience during this visit!
This is my first Fringe Festival and the visually graphic solo dance performance Stof Rooi (red fabric in Afrikaans) is one of the most unusual and dynamic I’ve seen. Described as “physical theatre,” the powerful production “explores the conflicts of language and identity associated with the world of ancestry and the present-day reality of a boy in the Northern Cape”.
It was performed at Cape Town City Hall in the catacombs of the small KleiSand Theatre, with the audience seated intimately close to the riveting performance.
Performer Dustin Beck portrays a young matriculate contemplating how he will leave his mark in the world. Described as a “ritualistic performance” at times the dancer in Stof Rooi seemed mime-like to me. The audience watched the “anxiety to pass metric consume the young boy as he battled to prove his worth”.
Beck’s spellbinding performance graphically communicates the boy’s emotions. His “intricate foot work, the stage lighting, and magic of dust” explore a “boy running from his name and bloodline towards a future filled with more promise, hope, and meaning”.
Stof Rooi was made possible by the Theatre Arts Admin Collective. The Collective provides a venue for local theatre practitioners and enables people from diverse backgrounds to “come together to create work, develop skills, and perform”.
“Stof Rooi’s sound and movement speak to the dream space of the ancestors in a language and vocabulary” deeply rooted in the boy’s mind and body but one that he does not understand. His reality is the language of school systems and gang initiations.
The two worlds (dream and real) fight to occupy the boy’s body. He “fights against both and to prove himself beyond a culture and heritage that seems to have no future”.
The original production was performed at the Obs Family Festival. During the Festival young people encouraged high school learners from the Cape Flats to engage with the performance and really physically understand the complex struggle it addresses.
Director Jason Jacobs is skilled in teaching, acting, dance, and physical theatre. He was nominated for a coveted Fleur du Cap Theatre Award for Best Young Director.
Jacobs lectures at drama, dance, and creative writing workshops and has won many awards. He is recognized as a theatre-maker, playwright, and mentor for the ASSITEJ SA Theatre4Youth Western Cape Mentorship Programme. Jacobs co-founded KleiSand Theatre which encourages positive thinking in South African youth through “inventive, cutting-edge theatre and dance”.
It was a magnetic performance last night at Cape Town Magic Club! When the evening began I had no idea what to expect. As the show progressed I was riveted by the sensational trickery of three seasoned magicians. The tiny dark theatre with a mysterious layer of theatrical smoke and a few well-placed mirrors made it tough to catch a clever magician’s sleight of hand.
The informal club operates in City Centre in the cellar of The Cape Town Club. It seats less than 50 people. I won’t elaborate on specifics of the magic performed last night but highly recommend the Magic Club – a fun and entertaining evening.
The spring evening was cool and mysteriously misty. I parked on Keerom Street, a dimly lighted cobblestone alley behind the theatre.
Cape Town Club was created in 1976 by merging two of the city’s oldest clubs from the 1800s – the City Club and Civil Service Club. The stylish Club is near beautiful Company’s Garden and the Cape Town High Court. The restaurant, QVS18, has views of Table Mountain and a balcony overlooking Queen Victoria Street.
The three performing magicians were Marcel Oudejans, Greg Gelb, and Ryan Jones. Each magician was phenomenal. They kept the audience engaged and on the edge of our seats!
Marcel Oudejans – Magician, Producer and Host
“Marcel is highly regarded for his comedy-infused magic and has performed professionally as a corporate event entertainer for well over a decade.
Marcel performs internationally and throughout Southern Africa, recently in Ukraine and Namibia. He represented South Africa at India’s Vismayam Magic Convention.
Marcel’s clients include hundreds of blue-chip corporate audiences, high-profile executives, international conferences, casinos, and luxury hotels. He also produced and performed three one-man shows (Sleight of Mouth 1, Sleight of Mouth 2, and Curious Things) at the annual National Arts Festival Fringe and Cape Town Fringe Festivals.
Audience participation forms an important part of his magic shows. Volunteers become instant partners in his astonishing act. During the show Marcel produces objects, reads minds, and helps volunteers perform magic of their own. Long after the event is over and audiences leave the performance they are still laughing from sheer surprise and enjoyment of the show.”
Greg Gelb Magician
“Greg has wooed people with his magic and humor since he was 9 years old. Born and bred in the heart of Cape Town, he grew up with no formal magical training. Self-taught, he learned the craft and began reading books about magic from cover to cover, practicing on anyone who would stop and give their attention to his magic.
Greg has the chops, personality, and warmth that make for a great stage presence as he takes you on a mystical and mysterious journey. Remember the amazement felt when you watched the magician at the Spur pull a coin from your ear? Remember the feeling of astonishment when you saw your first magic trick? Those feelings are what you feel when you sit down with Greg. Nothing matters except you and the tools he uses to blow your mind.
Greg has worked for many corporations. Most recently he is the resident magician at The Thirsty Scarecrow in Stellenbosch. Greg performed at the Cape Town Magic Club in April 2016 as a guest performer, and he has returned to the scene for season 2. Be prepared to be amazed, amused, astonished, and astounded as you join Greg on his journey of magic and mystery.”
Ryan Jones Magician
“An award-winning graduate of the College of Magic Ryan Jones is a mysterious and unique performer involved in the world of magic for more than a decade. At a young age, he jetted off to Las Vegas, the world capital of magic, to perform for celebrities.
Ryan is a full-time Industrial Designer and his creativity shines through in all his magic. Ryan seeks to amaze, puzzle, and shock his audiences. He will leave you at the edge of your seat wanting more! But be careful, the closer you look, the less you will see…”
Depending on unpredictable spring weather, the best time to see South Africa’s West Coast Wildflowers is from mid-August to mid-September. Viewing on a sunny day is essential. In the past, between the weather and commitments there was always a reason to delay wildflower outings. This year it happened!
Waiting until mid-September was risky but rewarding. I found fields of colorful blossoms with an extra-added benefit – smaller crowds of tourists. My new favorite wildflower, Geissorhiza Radians, is known as the “Wine Cup”. Winecups are hearty drought-tolerant perennials. Varieties are found in parts of the United States.
The drive north via Route 27 has several points of interest and stunning panoramas of the Atlantic Ocean. Mamre, a town established by Moravian missionaries in the 1800s, was a post for the Dutch East India Company.
I felt a bit emotional when driving by Koeberg Nuclear Power Station where I was a consultant in the late 1980s. Koeberg is the only nuclear power plant in Africa.
Back then, I lived on Beach Road in Sea Point and every morning car pooled with other consultants along the coast passing Table View, Boulbergstrand, and Melkbosstrand. Politically, the 1980s in South Africa were extremely volatile, so getting to the plant was fraught with stress and multiple security checks.
“The resistance of the mid-1980s destroyed utterly the ‘total strategy’ tactics of the Botha government. The campaign to win hearts and minds was in tatters, with thousands in detention and an occupying army in the townships …”
The final approach involved walking a half mile over sand dunes patrolled by Eskom machine gun carrying security guards with German Shepard police dogs. I haven’t forgotten those tense times. The daily Koeberg “drill” was many things – never blasé!
Beyond Koeberg sprawled over the hills there were breathtaking fields of pollen-laden wildflowers thick with blossoms frequented by bumblebees. In the midst of heavy buzzing, human hay fever sneezes were also audible. One photographer wearing shorts complained about bee stings.
South Africa’s dreamlike wildflower fields are popular with photographers and there were some photo shoots in process. One photographer was taking pictures of a semi-naked model seductively draped in front of a cluster of vivid blossoms.
Sweet floral fragrances filled the spring air creating an intoxicating atmosphere more alluring than any perfume! I spent a few hours wandering through the flower fields and then drove to nearby Darling for lunch and a tour of their annual Wildflower Show.
Everything about sleepy Darling happens at a slow pace. The rough backroad leading to the town is being transformed into a paved two-lane highway. Construction resulted in one-lane traffic for most of the drive. At points along the way flaggers waved drivers to a stop where they waited patiently for 5 to 10 minutes while traffic passed in the other direction.
I stopped for a leisurely lunch at a cafè and charcuterie called The Flying Pig. In addition to their popular pork dishes they served a variety of delicious sandwiches, pastries, coffee, and homemade juices. I sat outside in the sun enjoying the garden.
I decided to skip the crowded Darling Flower Show since it seemed more interesting to people buying plants. I found a good jazz station on the radio and settled in for a slow scenic drive back to Cape Town.
Beyond road construction but before the coastal turnoff for Cape Town, there was a traffic bottleneck. I wondered if there was an accident. Closer to the source of the delay 6 or 7 police vehicles parked near cars pulled to the roadside. I had flashbacks about some of the bizarre police chases we saw during a long African safari when policemen pursued suspects along the roadside. It wasn’t like that.
I passed to the front and an Afrikaner policeman approached with a small object in his hand. He asked me to breathe into it so he could check for alcohol. There are several craft breweries and wineries along the wildflower route, so the area must be a popular check point for police, especially on weekends. After passing the breathalyzer test, I was allowed to continue. It was my first breathalyzer!
Along the coast, the silhouette of my atomic friend Koeberg hulked in the distance. For old times’ sake I decided to stop and take a photo. Security made getting close a challenge. I pulled off the road some distance from the plant and snapped a shot – wondering if hidden security cameras were monitoring the area.
Later back at Mouille Point there was another spectacular ocean sunset. I watched in a state of slight euphoria and reflected on another interesting day in Africa.