Abdullah Ibrahim – Soweto (for Nelson Mandela)

This morning I woke up humming Abdullah Ibrahim’s “Soweto”. May-Li, who reads minds, nonchalantly put on some of his music for us to listen to while we got the day started. Then I went over to the kitchen, fixed an arepa de choclo and some coffee, and played this beautiful record over breakfast. I’ve been humming it all day.


This couldn’t be more fitting.


“Abdullah tells a remarkable story about two tunes that he performed in Cape Town in 1976. These became the anthems of children in the streets of the city. They were the tunes Mannenberg (named after a township in Cape Town that is parallel in significance to Soweto in Johannesburg) and Soweto. The saxophone solos were being sung to words all over the country, as anthems of anger and resistance to the apartheid regime. Just a few months after the recordings of these tunes were released, the Soweto uprising occurred. This was the turning point in South African history, when the South African security forces gunned down schoolchildren, who were protesting against [Afrikaans] language instruction in schools.” (Carol Ann Muller, in Kalamu ya Salaam’s great post on Mannenberg – highly recommended.)


Abdullah Ibrahim humbly tells that in the mid 70s, Nelson Mandela’s lawyer snuck in some of Ibrahim’s music into his prison in Robin Island; when he heard it, he said “Liberation is near”.

Thank you, Nelson Mandela. Rest in power.

“Jabulani”, Abdullah Ibrahim


One of the controversies at this year’s World Cup in South Africa (beside the horrendous officiating) has been the ball, known as the Jabulani, Zulu for rejoice. Strikers hate it, goalkeepers find it unpredictable, and even the all-powerful and usually clueless FIFA has decided it will look into the issue once the tournament ends. The ball has been called “capricious” and likened to “a crazy gerbil.” Luis Fabiano, Brazil’s top goal scorer, said of the Jabulani: “It’s very weird. It’s like it doesn’t want to be kicked.” Maybe that’s why he felt he had to use his hands to control the ball and score against Ivory Coast.

I’m no Luis Fabiano, but I did play with a Jabulani last weekend, and can attest to the fact that it seemed a litte light. A friend told me about a game on Sunday here in Oakland where the ball spiralled off the crossbar, bounced over a fence, and then over the eight-lane highway beside the field. Clearly, something is amiss.

Naturally, I turned to music for an explanation, and remembered this track from Abdullah Ibrahim’s beautiful 1977 album “The Journey”, recorded live at Alice Tully Hall in New York. Ibrahim, whom you may also know as Dollar Brand, is one of South Africa’s true jazz heroes, and he assembled an all-star band for this show, including trumpet great Don Cherry, baritone player Hamiet Bluiett (co-founder of the World Saxophone Quartet), and one of my favorite bassists, Johnny Dyani. All were in fine form that night. The complete track is about 18 minutes long, but I’m only posting a five minute excerpt so that you might understand a bit about this ball. If you haven’t watched a game of the World Cup yet, and are wondering what the hell I’m talking about: this song pretty much describes what the ball does.

As an added bonus, I think I can hear the pleasing drone of a vuvuzela or two at the end… Or maybe, after 50+ matches, it’s just ringing in my ears.

Jabulani by Abdullah Ibrahim


música y fútbol,