Abdullah Ibrahim – Water from an Ancient Well Tour

Sunday, 14 April 2024.

My drive to the SunBet Arena in Pretoria was a reminder of where it had all began for me. My earliest memory of Abdullah Ibrahim’s music is from back when I was 7 or 8 years old at our old family home in Soshanguve. My brother and I used to share a room and on school nights we would be tucked into bed by our sister. However, when she’d switch off the lights, we would not dare fall asleep before we had heard the song that completed what I would now call our “night routine”. Back then our home did not have a ceiling and sound travelled with ease from one room to the next, and that’s what allowed my brother and I to sneak a listen of the sweet melodies from our parents’ radio in the next room.

My mom and late dad used to listen to A re boleleng on Thobela FM religiously and while my brother and I had no interest in the talk show itself, we were big fans of the show’s theme song. At such young ages, we of course did not know the title of the song nor the name of the artist who sang it, but that did not stop us from enjoying the song. Every night when the lights were off and the theme song was on, my brother and I would sneak out of our beds and dance to the sweet tune before sneaking back into bed at it’s completion and falling sound asleep with smiles in our hearts.

Much later in our lives we learnt that the theme song that filled our house and moved our feet was indeed Chisa by Abdullah Ibrahim.

Captured by Andile Bhala

As I drive, I find myself in deep thought, I wonder how many albums this legend has to his name. I contemplate the number of artists he has worked with and those whom he has inspired, both directly and indirectly. I think about the many people, like my brother and I, whose lives he has touched through his music and those who perhaps don’t even know that the song that keeps them going belongs to this formidable pianist. As I go on with my journey, my excitement builds up as I toss around songs in my mind that I might get to experience performed live. I however leave enough room for surprise, because all I really want from that moment and from the show is to witness Abdullah Ibrahim – Dollar Brand, in his element.

As I walked into the Sunbet Arena, I marveled at the diversity of the audience around me. There were old friends, siblings and couples who had probably lived and grew alongside the younger Dollar Brand. With them were a younger generation, that most likely had sat alongside those from the older generations as they got introduced to his music, who would now finally get to witness the piano maestro whose music they were often subjected to on those synonymous Sunday afternoons. Young or old, we had all gathered together to quench our thirst by drinking from the ancient well that is Abdullah Ibrahim.

The arena was beautifully lit with blue undertones that made the setting feel intimate. The maestro walked in, and was assisted to his seat. We then serenaded him with a standing ovation from the moment he walked in; a natural response when in the presence of such greatness. He sat down and helped us settle from the first note he played. Needless to say that we found ourselves fully immersed in the experience and the acoustics of the arena made this transition so seamless. We were further mesmerized by the soothing chemistry and synergy between the rest of the ensemble, containing Cleave Guyton Jr (on flute and piccolo), Noah Jackson (on bass and cello) and Will Terrill (on drums).

Dollar Brand would play a solo, come to a halt and the rest of the ensemble would carry on playing before he would join in again. It felt like a conversation we were invited to. My favourite part of the conversation was when they played Blues for a Hip King. When his ensemble played, he would sit there with his hands on his lap. I couldn’t help but wonder what could possibly be going on in the mind of the maestro, on that stage, at that age? After working with so many artists and having been on so many stages – is he get fleeting flashbacks of all those moments? is he re-living them?

Captured by Andile Bhala

His song choices and the experience he gave us suggested that he wasn’t just catering to what we wanted to hear but rather he was inviting us into a conversation that needed to be heard and embraced. We were invited into the presence of greatness so that we may be reminded of the features of grit, the reward of tenacity, and the joy of living.

What an experience! What brilliance! What a privilege it was to witness the legendary Abdullah Ibrahim in our lifetime!

As I drove home I pondered on one question that has not left me since I stepped out of that arena: what will I be doing at the age of 89? What will you?

Captured by Andile Bhala