Where passion is noted

May 18, 2001

Jazz musician Abdullah Ibrahim has broken free from the traditional university-based music academies in a venture aimed at reconnecting the victims of apartheid with their cultural heritage.

After a fruitless year negotiating with a historically disadvantaged university, he has been instrumental in setting up the M7 Academy.

Dr Ibrahim, visiting professor of music at London's Gresham College, was disappointed at the reaction from the academic community to his ideas for promoting South Africa's musical heritage through reacquainting disadvantaged communities with the indigenous music and jazz that sprang up in apartheid-oppressed townships.

Invited by one vice-chancellor to work with music faculty, he gave up in frustration at the complexities of academic politics.

"[Academics] seemed isolated from the communities and their culture," he said. "We tried to go into the universities but people seem to feel threatened and want to maintain the status quo.

"They really do not have any idea of what is happening on the street and in the communities."

So he decided to establish M7 to give all South Africans - especially those from disadvantaged communities - a chance of formal musical training.

Based in Cape Town with a second campus in Johannesburg, M7 nurtures interests in dance, nutrition, self-defence, meditation and traditional healing to arrive at a sound musical culture in South Africa.

Scholarships are available to ensure that lack of resources is less of a barrier to would-be students with talent, potential "or passion". But students will have to contribute 10 to 15 per cent of annual fees.

Dr Ibrahim learnt his music in District Six township outside Cape Town before leaving for the United States in the 1960s. He did not return to South Africa to live until 1990.

He will be talking about his music at Gresham College, London, on May 21, as well as performing.

He will appear with the NDR Big Band at London's Barbican concert hall on May 24 as part of its African music season.

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