SoundDigger Vol.277: afro jazz :: Batsumi + Bea Benjamin / re-released LPs

Mittwoch, 6. November 2013 um 19:02 - futziwolf

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RIP Sathima Bea Benjamin
SoundDigger :: the cemetery rave list

The great South African jazz singer Sathima Bea Benjamin, wife of pianist Abdullah Ibrahim and a vocalist much admired by Duke Ellington, died suddenly Tuesday in Cape Town. She was 76.

Born in Johannesburg on Oct. 17, 1936 and raised in Cape Town, Benjamin was based for nearly 45 years in New York City. As a young singer in South Africa, she worked on her craft and learned material by watching British and American movies and transcribing lyrics from songs on the radio. She and Ibrahim had fled South Africa following the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960, settling in Switzerland. In 1963, Benjamin met Ellington in Zurich and insisted that he listen to her husband play at a local club. As a result, Ellington arranged for both Brand, as Ibrahim was then known, and Benjamin to record in Paris, and the album Duke Ellington Presents the Dollar Brand Trio was released in 1964.
MI0000134167.jpg?partner=allrovi RIP, Sathima Bea Benjamin
However, the music from Benjamin’s recording session was not immediately released and was presumed lost. It was discovered and released in 1996 by Enja as A Morning In Paris, and it features Benjamin performing with Brand, Ellington, Billy Strayhorn, and the expatriate South African musicians Johnny Gertze and Makhaya Ntshoko on bass and drums respectively.

In an interview last year, Benjamin told John Edwin Mason, a Virginia-based authority on South African music, how her fabled meeting with Ellington took place. From a wonderful post on Mason’s blog:

“…I don’t know how I got backstage. …there were all
these women with their furs.  You know, Duke Ellington loved the ladies,
and the ladies loved him.  So there were a whole lot of rich, elegant
Swiss ladies, with their furs and jewels, waiting to get in his dressing
room.  …and I’m standing there with my little Salvation Army clothes…. 
But every time the door would open, he would catch my eye.  Then at one
point he said, ‘Let her in.’  And there I was in the room.  It was a

“I said if you’d just come with me when the show is over and
listen to the Dollar Brand trio, I think you would be very interested. 
He didn’t even ask me at that point what do I do.  He said ‘OK.’

“Afterwards… we get to the club and the owner had the key in the
door.  Abdullah and [band members] Makaya [Ntshoko] and Johnny [Gertze]
were standing outside, and they see me get out of the car with Duke
Ellington.  Oh, my God!  …So the owner puts the key back in the door and
we go in.

“The trio played, and Duke sat there in wonderment.  [He] said,
‘Listen.  Be at my hotel at 10:30 am.’  We didn’t sleep that night.  It
was February and was snowing.  …We just couldn’t believe what happened. 
[The next day, Ellington arranged for Sathima, Abdullah, and the band
to travel to Paris to record for him.]

“…when we got to Paris… they took us to the Champs-Élysées.  I
have never in my life lived in such a grand hotel.  …I was just amazed
at the grandeur of it all.  But that’s what Ellington did.  [At the
Barclay studios], Ellington came in with little Billy Strayhorn.  And he
aid, ‘Strays… this is Bea.  I think the two of you can do wonderful
things.’  And Strayhorn sits there, he has his big glass of champagne
and his cigar.  He says, ‘What are we going to do?’  Instead of me
coming up with an Ellington song, I said I’m going to sing ‘A
Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square.’

“Then Ellington said sing with the trio…  When I started to sing
‘I Got It Bad,’ he  ran out of the booth.  He said, ‘Get off of the
piano,’ to Abdullah.  ‘This is my song.’  I thought, ‘Oh, first it was
Strayhorn, now here’s Ellington.  I can either drop dead now or sing
like I never sang before.’  And I know I sang like I never sang before.

“A little later I sang ‘Solitude’ for the very first time.  And
ever since that time, when it comes time to do ‘Solitude’ in a show, I
tell the pianists ‘No, no, no.’  They tell me that I don’t have to sing
it alone.  I say, ‘I’m not singing it alone.  I’m hearing Ellington
accompanying me.  I’m not alone. …Ellington is here with me.’”

Sathima Bea Benjamin - Solitude (1963) on youtube

Some regard Benjamin’s 1976 album African Songbird as her masterpiece. That disc of Benjamin’s originals was reissued earlier this year: Bea Benjamin's African Songbird Reissued on youtube
Here’s the Soundcloud page for the album.

Benjamin begin her own record label, called ekapa, in 1979, not long
after she and her husband moved to New York. Benjamin released eight
discs under her own name on her label, and her 1982 disc Dedications was nominated for a Grammy.

I’m quite partial to Southern Love, a disc that Benjamin
recorded in the late 1980s with pianist Kenny Barron, bassist Buster
Williams and drummer Billy Higgins. Benjamin was the subject of the 2010 film Sathima’s Windsong.
Here is the trailer for the film.

Benjamin and Ibrahim were estranged, and Benjamin moved to Cape Town
in 2011. Benjamin is survived by Ibrahim, their son Tsakwe, and their
daughter Tsidi, who performs as the rap artist Jean Grae. youtube

In  2004, the South African government conferred on Benjamin the
Order of Ikhamanga in Silver in recognition of her artistry and
contribution to the struggle against apartheid.
Earlier this month, the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz Festival in Johannesburg honoured Benjamin.

Rest in peace, Sathima Bea Benjamin.


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