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Songs of the Fathers - A celebration of the music of Abdullah Ibrahim

As part of my ongoing collaboration with Resonant Artists, the US label headed up by Phil Raskin of Satya, I was asked to create liner notes for this new recording to chart musically the varied and dynamic career of one of music's true masters. Here is a very shortened version of the liner notes and you can find more detail, the full notes, and the recording itself ( which is truly mesmeric) by following the links that follow the liner note sample. I am very proud to be associated with this emergent label.

‘Songs Of The Fathers’ is a celebration of the music of Abdullah Ibrahim and masterfully captures Ibrahim’s powerful influence on music. This album encapsulates decades of the musical prowess of one of music’s most talented and iconic composers and performers.

Frank Doblekar and Phil Raskin (Satya) have worked together for decades, and it was Doblekar who introduced Raskin to Ibrahim’s music almost four decades ago.

Ibrahim was mentored and introduced to the public by Duke Ellington in the 1960s. He was part of the Duke Ellington Orchestra, winning Ellington’s admiration for his composition skills and ability as an improviser. When Ellington took a sabbatical, he entrusted Ibrahim with the direction of his precious orchestra. Ibrahim became a world-renowned musician and, along with Hugh Masekela, gained notoriety in South Africa for what became known as Cape Jazz.


Cape Jazz was only a small part of Ibrahim’s career and Satya decided they wanted to create a portrait portraying a career that evolved dynamically and dramatically. Producer Malcolm Cecil came on board. Cecil is best known for producing Stevie Wonder’s ‘Talking Book’ (Tamla, 1972) and ‘Innervisions’ (Tamla 1973) and was one of the inventors of polyphonic multitimbral synthesis. Neil Alexander, synthesist, and keyboardist on this recording, was also brought on board. He brought the orchestral feel. Raskin says, “He is not only a brilliant pianist but an incredible musician and has been dedicated to orchestral synthesis for decades. He’s collected incredible instruments and analog synthesizers and can integrate and play these in such a musical way, it seemed to me that he would be the perfect complement for Doblekar and myself on this recording.”  


Finding the right environment where they could create the music live and in the moment was a tough call but luckily, a colleague of Cecil’s, Paul Anthony had a studio in Rhinebeck, New York Clubhouse. When Satya and company entered the studio to record, they could take full advantage of the moment and spontaneity. They had never performed the tracks together and each track apart from one on the album is a first-take performance by the ensemble.


The opening track is ‘Mannenberg’ and celebrates the people, vibrance, color, energy, and culture of a small part of Cape Town. The idea behind the track is to represent the village and approach it in the style of Cape Jazz. Raskin approached the arrangement from the perspective of layers, with an underlying ostinato representing the ties that bring communities together. Atop this are voices of the market, and a keening of the melody as different rhythms and voices merge, blend, and form an intimate conversation.

Raskin says, ‘All those layers represent the activity within that village. I am fortunate that in my career, I’ve travelled globally and made multiple trips to Africa. It is that experience I try to convey on this track.”  

‘Song For Sathima’ was written as a dedication to Ibrahim’s wife. Raskin comments, “As Frank and I were talking about the arrangement, what came to mind for me was Johnny Hodges of the Duke Ellington Orchestra, an incredible virtuoso soloist. We decided to emphasize the melody and if we somehow conjure up the spirit of Hodges, that’s the end goal. Frank Carr played this so beautifully, we were able to embody that idea.”

‘The Wild Rose’ is a vehicle for the ensemble’s improvisation and Raskin’s drum set is enhanced by instruments he has collected, including an African djembe. There is a broad palette of sonic quality pulled from and incorporated into the arrangement. Alexander proves his improvisational orchestration skills on this track and Doblekar excels in eerie, improvised saxophone phrases.

The track is a vehicle for the ensemble’s improvisation and Raskin’s drum set is enhanced by instruments he has collected, including an African djembe, given to Raskin just before the recording. There is a broad palette of sonic quality that is pulled from and incorporated into the arrangement – which allows the tune to play itself, as Doblekar said it should when the ensemble was discussing it. Listen and you can hear. Alexander proves his improvisational orchestration skills on this track and Doblekar excels in eerie, improvised saxophone phrases.

‘Hamba Khale’ was originally titled ‘Salam Peace.’ ‘Hamba Khale’ is from the Zulu language and means ‘go well’ and the original ‘Salam’ means peace, so the track is ‘go in peace.’ This is the tune that is a second take. It is a rapture of different time patterns and rhythmic changes, overtopped by melody with provocative, energy-packed percussion. Raskin comments, “Initially, it sounds like a drum set piece, but the arrangement idea grew out of present times. There’s so much conflict in the world, causing much pain and suffering for many people. It’s sort of the flip side of a peaceful existence. So in my mind, the way I viewed this was to be able to go in peace, travel in peace, be peaceful. I think that is a goal for all of us. I wanted the drums as well as the composition to act as counterpoints to one another to impart the idea of reconciliation and peace. I think we achieved that pretty well.” I have to agree. The drums' intricate, changing patterns serve to draw attention to the beautiful melody that evolves across the top.

‘Tone Poem 2’ is the only track that is by Doblekar but inspired by Ibrahim’s compositions and forms a melodic cycle, representative of how melody can shift under a relatively static harmonic background. This shifting movement, with soaring melody lines, against a steady instrumental presence is a trademark of Ibrahim’s compositions, so the track sits well and is in keeping with a tribute to Ibrahim’s music.

Ibrahim’s iconic ‘Blue Bolero’ closes the album and, while it might not be traditional to close out with a ballad, it feels right here. As Raskin comments “It is representative of Ibrahim’s approach, both in composition and improvisation.


‘Songs of The Fathers’ is a tribute to a great master. From the outset, the musicians capture the spirit of Ibrahim and transfer this to the listeners’ ears through the medium of his creativity and their musicality. It is also a journey of improvisation and discovery by musicians who understand how the complexities of music and arrangements can convey a simple, fundamental message of bringing us together. In music, in peace, in unity, and love.

For full information, to purchase the music, and to find out more about Phil Raskin, follow the links below.




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