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Friday, April 19, 2024

Satya - Songs of the Fathers: A Celebration of the Music of Abdullah Ibrahim (Resonant Artists, 2024)

By Sammy Stein

Songs Of The Fathers is a recording by Phil Raskin and Frank Doblekar, the duo at the core of the Satya collaboration, here enhanced by Synthesist Neil Alexander and Paul Antonell who created the orchestral feel the duo wanted. It should be mentioned there is a caveat here. I was asked to write the liner notes for this album and readily agreed.

The recording is a mindful tribute to Abdullah Ibrahim, one of music’s great masters. Each track is a first-take recording apart from one, which felt right for Raskin, who was keen to impart a sense of an ‘of the moment’ atmosphere to the improvised elements of the recording.

‘Mannenberg’ opens the album. The number was written during the 1970s and is very much of its time, with Ibrahim funneling the chaotic, busy, feral sounds of urban life in Cape Town during the time of oppressive apartheid. It opens with a trinkling piano and the voices of the crowd before the deep-voiced drums enter, with the continuous background rhythm that pervades the track. Like the spirit of the African people during this time, the rhythm is never drowned, and its strength continues no matter what is laid across the top of it. It creates the underlying tension in the piece, as it is overlaid with kinetic rhythms and melodic lines that work against each other, yet briefly conjoin to create harmonies. The melody tops out across all the noise, gentle, yet distinct. It is a dynamic, vibrant track that includes marketplace, and the occasional vehicle sounds which add to the sense of being immersed in a village square. The number has hints of blues, jazz, and marabi – an African music that evolved during the urbanization of Africa during the 1920s. For Raskin, the rhythm patterns were influenced by his time spent in African villages. There is this wonderful swing between delicacy, a frothy effervescence of activity, and the harsh at times, gentle at others, continual melodic input across the top from Doblekar’s sax.

‘Song For Sathima’ was written in dedication to Ibrahim’s wife and was on his ‘Water From An Ancient Well’ album. It is strong, melodic, and powerful, giving the listener a hint of the character of this woman. With a gentle sway here, a touch of sweetness, a hint of sadness, and a love-filled tribute played here with more force than on the original album but just as powerful to listen to as Doblekar’s sax calls the melody line out over solid backing.

‘The Wild Rose’ is the perfect vehicle for the ensemble’s improvisation and on this track, the orchestral feel the band wanted to create for the recording comes to the fore. Raskin adds instruments he has collected, including an African djembe, to his drum kit, and, together with the synthesizer and sax, the ensemble creates a multi-textured arrangement. Doblekar and Raskin excel in eerie, improvised saxophone phrases backed by guttural phrasing from the percussion and piano. At times, a whale-song keening is heard, while at others, the sax wheedles its way around a central note, finding connecting microtones, proving no single note is an island, introducing an Eastern essence to the music. It is quite different from Ibrahim performing on the piano with his distinctive off-set harmonics, but this track has wonders all of its own, introduced by the ensemble’s imagination.

‘Hamba Khale’ means ‘go well’ in the Zulu language and this track is the only one on the album that is a second take. The intricate, energy-filled patterns of the percussion contrast with the winsome melody. The different rhythmic patterns, changes, and melody feel at once conflicting with counterpoints, yet they are linked by keys, times when they merge.

‘Tone Poem 2’ is the only track that is not an Ibrahim composition. By Doblekar, it is 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, pitched against soaring melody lines works well.

Ibrahim’s ‘Blue Bolero’ closes the album, and this beautiful ballad leaves the listener in awe of Ibrahim’s compositional skills and artistry. Satya does justice to Ibrahim’s music and remains respectful while applying their skill sets to the work. Ibrahim’s presence is felt in the music. Raskin comments, “We felt we needed to be respectful of this great artist Abdullah Ibrahim and we hope you will enjoy this music. For those familiar with Ibrahim's music, we hope you feel we gave it justice, and for others, we hope the music will reach out to you and that you will become familiar with his music and be able to share in its joy as well.”

Worth noting too is the incredible cover art by Peter Koppenall.

Resonant Artists is a label with a mission to reach out and demonstrate the power of music to others. Created by Raskin and a platform for the release of improvisational music by both established and emergent artists, this recording will be followed by more. Raskin’s’ connections in the music world go long and deep and his contact bring a depth and breadth with them that is difficult to surpass. More is here on this platform Resonant Artists – A New Force in Improvised Music ~ The Free Jazz Collective (

So, expect more but meantime, enjoy this beautiful recording.