Cape Town – Many have referred to him as a legend but world-famous jazz pianist Abdullah Ibrahim dislikes it.

“This is very dangerous. So, it means I’m done?” he quipped when told he was indeed legendary.

Testimony to the statement is that each time he announces a live performance in Cape Town, it sells out immediately.

He returns to his former home District Six this week to perform four shows, from Thursday to Sunday, at The Fugard Theatre.

During an exclusive interview, Ibrahim said he was still treated with far less respect at home than internationally.

“I’m still regarded as a minimum-wage worker (at home),” he said.

“I play solo piano concerts all over the world in major concert halls. It’s ironic that in my hometown I have been talking about playing solo piano concerts for 70 years and nobody wants to do it. I have to go abroad.

“I approached The Fugard and asked them if I could play solo concerts. We agreed. And it’s sold out.

“I do this internationally but why do we have a problem in South Africa?”

Ibrahim said the organisers of an upcoming festival had told him he could decide his fee.

“How is it possible that I play in concert halls all over the world and command top money but, in South Africa, they don’t want to pay me?”

During the interview, Ibrahim spoke about his life on the streets in Cape Town, writing music in graveyards to escape the apartheid police and how he had starting playing the piano in concerts when he still a child.

He runs a music retreat in the Kalahari Desert with Khoi and San people. He said those open spaces were where he “turned the devil into a Muslim”.

His next major project is the release of Mandela’s Gun, directed by John Irvin. Ibrahim wrote the music for the film, which has an all South African cast.

The film tells the story of Mandela’s “experience as a guerrilla freedom fighter” and a firearm he received from former Ethiopian leader Haile Selassie.


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