Abdullah Ibrahim, Yasushi Naito, Consul of Japan in Cape Town, and Wyomia Mouwers of the consulate at The Fugard Theatre. Photo: Supplied
Abdullah Ibrahim has toured around the world since the 1960s. His performances at the famous halls and sacred buildings around the world have inspired countless people.

Among these many performances was one held at the World Heritage Kamigamo Shrine in Kyoto, which Ibrahim described as “a truly special experience that cannot be obtained elsewhere”.

It may be unexpected to many, but this great son of Cape Town has a deep relationship with Japan, and some claim they can see the shadows of the samurai behind Ibrahim’s sounds.

I had the honour of receiving Ibrahim at my office at the consulate a year ago, and as background to the centenary celebration of the Japanese Consulate, I explained the long-standing interactions between Japanese and Cape Town, sharing the story of the first Japanese person recorded to have arrived in South Africa in 1662.

Ibrahim’s reaction struck me, “Oh, Anthony, I know where his grave is,” he calmly said.

From what I read, the second commander, Zacharias Wagenaer, who served as a VOC captain at Dejima, brought “Anthonyj de Later van Japan” in 1662 and freed him in 1666. De Later was allowed to own a piece of land and a house at the corner of Adderley and Strand streets, and the block became the “Cradle of Commerce” of the Mother City.

I thought not too many people in Cape Town were aware of this piece of history, but Ibrahim was.

He continued and told me he believes the relationship between human beings and nature should culminate in the Japanese concept of satoyama (sato is “home”, yama is “mountain”, and signifies a sustainable harmony with the environment).

It relates well to the sentiment of awe and respect toward nature in the African tradition, which can be viewed as Africans’ unique expression of furusato (the place one comes from, spiritual home).

In his humble remarks, Ibrahim’s every word showed amazing depth of understanding and insight into Japanese spiritual inspiration, as well as the synergy with African heritage. That was the start of our conversation, and it inspired me to study more about his journey with Japan.

I realised why the performances at Kamigamo Shrine were so significant and herewith share some reflections of those who attended the legendary concerts at the shrine, as it appropriately articulates how Ibrahim incorporates his understanding of how harmony with nature impacts mind and body.

Kamigamo Shrine is one of the oldest among over 80 000 shrines in Japan. The original shrine was built in the year 678 to worship the kami Kamo-Wakeikazuchi-no-Mikoto.

Kami is a spiritual force. It is stated that the powerful kami ventured down to the mountain behind the shrine, making the mountain itself an object for worship. The sacred air around the area brings purification of the mind and body of visitors.

It resonates with the belief in the spirit of nature found in Africa.

Ibrahim performed in the state of mushin no thinking, to immerse himself in the performance. An audience member said: “It was as if the venue of the old wooden building hovered up and moved somewhere slowly, carrying everyone together.”

This was a feeling shared by many of the attendees.

Ibrahim’s concert at Kamigamo Shrine became a legend. By popular demand it was organised again in 2006, 2010 and 2015.

His performance made them feel ma, which is highly valued in the Japanese art. It means “space”, “atmosphere”, “interval”, “pause” and “perfect timing” all at once.

The blank margin is asserted in his performance like the masterpieces of Japanese paintings.

He has reached the point where he is able to express the way of thinking and way of life through the piano.

Ibrahim said: “For a long time I have been playing in various places all over the world, but the experience at Kamigamo Shrine in Kyoto is definitely one of the most special, one of the best.

“With my body and mind purified, I completely immerse in music.

“The particular love, sympathy and compassion of those who realise the stage. In their smiles I feel relaxed and moved as if I returned home.”

Ibrahim has a special link with Japanese tradition and culture, which extends beyond his music. He is also an expert in budo, the practice of Japanese martial arts as a way of life.

He has been conferred full mastership from the 15th grandmaster Yukio Tonegawa of Bujutsu-Kõdõsoku-kai Yakami-ryu Taijutsu. In the Bujutsu-Kõdõsoku-kai institute you realise the unity of mind, body and nature through the behavioural laws of the body obtained from nature’s providence.

Ibrahim, who understands the spirit of ancient Japanese body techniques and culture, naturally succeeded to resonate with the sacred ground of Japan.

His sound contains the oldest wisdom, and at the same time, the deep breath of the magnificent universe that awakens the force of the new life.

Cape Town gets to experience Ibrahim’s unique approach to music at twin concerts on September 24 (Heritage Day) at The Fugard.

It is our distinct honour to present the matinee from 3pm, which is dedicated to the centenary of the Japanese Consulate in Cape Town, the highlight event of celebrating 100 years of the first Japanese mission in Africa.

Through his piano the audience will feel water from an ancient well, in resonance with Japan and Africa.

Tickets from R160 to R250 can be booked through the Fugard Theatre box office on 021 461 4554 or through the Fugard Theatre’s website at www.thefugard.com