Abdullah Ibrahim – Water From An Ancient Well (1985): Review


Produced by Sathima Bea Benjamin
Label – Tiptoe

Ibrahim’s fusion of his Cape Town roots music and U.S. jazz (particularly his mentor, Duke Ellington) are clearly evident on this 1985 collection. Before turning to Islam and under the pseudonym Dollar Brand his formative years were spent singing doo-wop American tunes and familiar traditional songs from his home town. As the burgeoning anti apartheid movement gathered pace in the late 1950s, Ibrahim along with trumpeter Hugh Masekela and saxophonist Kippie Moeketsi founded the short lived politically motivated Jazz Epistles. He would be championed by Ellington and eventually sign to Reprise and record a number of successful records during the 60s. By 1985 Ibrahim was a more than respected compositional writer and performer, and “Water From An Ancient Well” captures his confident shifts in styles and tempos. Gathering his Ekaya collective, with flautist Carlos Ward, tenor saxophonist Charles Davis, bassist David Williams and drummer Ben Riley, they take us from short and tender melodies, to more in depth compositions that highlight individual abilities.


The return of one of Ibrahim’s most notable works (“Manenberg Revisited”) is a striking example of his subtle simplicity in creating an everlasting tune. As an anthem to the beauty and pride of South Africa there needs no justification, other than to hear its poetic grandeur. The expansive title track allows some superlative solos and at times feels like a hypnotic hymn to celebrate the beautiful land. Other highlights include the vibrant “The Wedding”, the exultant “Mandela” and the faithful ode to his wife (“Song For Sathima”).

As an introduction to South Africa’s premier jazz man, “Water From An Ancient Well” is a fine place to start.


Track Rating
1 – Mandela (7)
2 – Song For Sathima (7)
3 – Manenberg Revisited (9)
4 – Tuang Guru (7)
5 – Water From An Ancient Well (7)
6 – The Wedding (8)
7 – The Mountain (7)
8 – Sameeda (7)

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