INTERNATIONALLY renowned Jazz legend Abdullah Ibrahim is looking forward to seeing old friends at his concerts in Port Elizabeth this weekend. The pianist said yesterday he had not been in Port Elizabeth for a number of years and could not wait to chat to the audience during the show.
Ibrahim, his Ekaya band and the Jazz Orchestra Big Band are joining forces this weekend to perform two concerts with a collection of compositions from the legend's acclaimed African River, Bombella and Ekaya Sotho Blue albums at the Opera House tonight and tomorrow.
"I am so looking forward to seeing the PE audience and breaking bread with old friends. This is what we do at our shows, interact with old friends of the heart," he said last night.
He said he had first come to the city with the Manhattan Brothers "many years ago" and had lived in New Brighton.
"There I was exposed to the very deep and challenging traditional music of the Eastern Cape, which is really special. New Brighton artists opened their homes to me and it was wonderful. I have great memories of my time in Port Elizabeth."
Described as one of the most gifted jazz musicians in history, Ibrahim will perform a new composition, Mendi Road – New Brighton, "a tribute to the vibrant township of New Brighton in Port Elizabeth where I stayed after my 1959 Music Indigenous Tour when I played with Themba Dambuze Mdledle, the leader of the jazz group Manhattan Brothers".
Earlier in the day yesterday, the 78-year-old artist and the Jazz Orchestra Big Band held a free three-hour workshop for aspiring musicians at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) South Campus Auditorium, where he examined improvisation, practice and scale techniques.
The eccentric Ibrahim had the students, teachers and older musicians in stitches as he talked about his love for music and his quest to find silence.
"Many years ago, I used to walk around the streets of Port Elizabeth, in New Brighton not knowing what I was looking for. It was only when I found it [silence] that I knew it was what I was always searching for."
The pianist and composer said once he found silence deep in the night, it was only then that he could hear his body and his heart, and it was easy for him to know when something was wrong with his health.
Ibrahim, who treated the students to a jam session at the workshop, said jazz was about freeing oneself. "When you play music, you are dealing with the unseen. The music that you hear me playing is only 1% of what I am."
He told the students there were musicians and there with people with instruments and they should take every moment seriously.
"When I play, I regard every member of the audience as a top musician. Don't underestimate the audience, especially in South Africa."
He advised the students not to hang out with "normal people".
"Nowadays, everyone looks the same. They wear the same designs, have the same hairstyles, eat the same things. I don't hang out with normal people, they drive me crazy. Don't be normal."
Ibrahim, who has written the soundtracks for a number of films, including Chocolat, and No Fear, No Die, said the show, which starts at 8pm at the Opera House, would be a treat.
Tickets at R150 for both shows are available from Computicket.