What joy sounds like in German
Bonus music break: Abdullah Ibrahim, John Tchicai, Gato Barbieri, Barre Phillips and Makaya Ntshoko performing live on German public television in 1968.
This 1968 Youtube clip may be the earliest known video footage of Abdullah Ibrahim in concert. In the video, a wiry (all arms and legs) Ibrahim, then still known as Dollar Brand (he was born Adolph Johannes Brand) performs with his band at the time – consisting of John Tchicai (saxophone), Gato Barbieri (saxophone), Barre Phillips (bass) and Makaya Ntshoko (drums) – on German television. The date of the recording was 31 May 1968.
The clip is from “NDR Jazz Workshop,” a TV program from the 1980s. The presenter is Michael Naura who, through his radio and TV show and his journalism, was quite central to popularizing jazz to German radio listeners and readers in the 1970s and 1980s.
What strikes you about this performance is how cosmopolitan this all is: two black South Africans, an Argentinean, a Congolese-Dane and an American. Before this, Ibrahim played mostly with South African musicians: The personnel on Brand’s first album, “Jazz Epistles Verse 1,” recorded in South Africa, are all home boys: Kippie Moeketsi, Hugh Masekela, Ntsoko, Early Mabuza and Johnny Gertze. Dollar Brand’s second album, “Dollar Brand Plays Sphere Jazz” recorded in Johannesburg and released in 1962, consisted of Ntsoko and Johnny Dyani (on bass). The 1963 album, “Duke Ellington Presents the Dollar Brand Trio” was Brand again with Ntsoko and Dyani. More on the latter two later. Ibrahim recorded at least 3 more albums between then and this German TV performance, which is my focus here.
It was around the time of the NDR performance that Ibrahim began to play with Gato Barbieri. The latter is an Argentinean tenor sax player. In 1968, Barbieri and Ibrahim recorded the album, “Confluence,” together. The two of them are listed as the only musicians on the album and Ibrahim also gets a credit for playing the cello. “Confluence” included the tracks “Hamba Khale (sic)” and “The Aloe and the Wildrose,” both written by Dollar. You also get the feeling on the other two tracks (“To Elsa” and “Eighty First Street”) that the South African music influences had rubbed off on Barbieri.
Tchicai, the tall, thin man playing saxophone on that 1968 live set, died on 8 October 2012. Interestingly, I can’t find any references or evidence of him and Dollar Brand/Abdullah Ibrahim ever recording a song or LP together. Tchicai is the offspring of a Congolese father, who has an interesting story of his own, and a Danish mother and grew up in Denmark’s second city, Aarhus (useless information: I once spent a whole month, in the dark of winter, in Aarhus. One upside of that Aarhus stay was hanging out with South African political exiles who had left in the 1970s and were now contemplating going back to South Africa and what that meant. They had adult children now there who were basically Danish and for whom South Africa would be an alien country. They also told me about their experiences and struggles with the Danish academy and job market as outsiders. One of these exiles, Leonard Martin, was involved in local politics, largely working with refugees and African immigrants, and through him I met the Somali-Danish activists fighting for better housing for their communities. So, I can only imagine Tchichai growing up as a black person in the 1940s and 1950s in Aarhus. But I digress.) One other Tchicai fact: He also collaborated with Johnny Dyani. Their collaboration was helped by both living in Copenhagen (Dyani later moved to Sweden). Dyani, who was a master of the double bass and also a piano player, died suddenly in 1986. (As for Dyani, him and Ibrahim recorded a total of five LP’s together: the aforementioned two at the top of this post as well as “Good news from Africa” (1973), “The Journey” (1978) and “Echoes from Africa” (1979).
Despite his advanced age, Tchicai was still performing in April this year (fast forward to about the 1:20 mark).
Barre Philips was 34 when the live TV recording was made for NDR. He was from San Francisco and was living and performing from his new base in the south of France at the time. Ibrahim wasn’t the only South African bandleader he played for; in 1969, he recorded an album with Chris McGregor, then making a name with the Blue Notes and later the Brotherhood of Breath. The latter, which was a multinational band, included a number of other South African exiles: Dyani, Mongezi Feza, Louis Moholo Moholo and Dudu Pokwana.
Finally, the remaining musician we see playing in the NDR Jazz Workshop clip, is Makhaya Ntsoko. A longtime collaborator of Ibrahim from their days back in Cape Town (Ntsoko is also from the city) and Johannesburg, he moved to Switzerland at the same time as Ibrahim and they played together there. When Ibrahim moved to the US by the 1970s, Ntsoko stayed behind in Switzerland. Together, Ntsoko and Ibrahim recorded six albums together.
Oh and drums in German is “schlagzeug.” Watch.