Sathima Bea Benjamin's amazing life reads like the plot to movie. She took time out of her busy schedule to recollect her life's journey from her childhood in pre-apartheid South Africa singing during movie house intermissions to self-imposed exile in Europe where she and pianist composer husband Dollar Brand (Abdullah Ibrahim) were discovered by Duke Ellington. Despite witnessing and being part of not just her country's history, but her chosen art's as well, this singer remains, to the casual listener an as yet undiscovered treasure. Chapter Index The Early Years Duke Ellington Recording Albums Between South Africa and ...read more
This recording belongs alongside the famous Reprise recording of Duke Ellington Presents the Dollar Brand Trio (Warner Bros., 1963)--now Abdullah Ibrahim. It comes from the same period and introduced the world to Ibrahim's then girlfriend, Beattie Benjamin (now Sathima Bea Benjamin). Actually, Benjamin heard Ellington in Zurich and convinced him to come hear Brand perform. Ellington also insisted that Benjamin sing for him, and the subsequent recordings were thought to be lost until relatively recently. Benjamin is a master of bittersweet balladry and it infuses all of the stunning standards she sings on this, her earliest recording. ...read more
To celebrate her recent septuagenarian status, vocalist Sathima Bea Benjamin selected twelve tracks spanning eight releases for inclusion on SongSpirit, from her first early-'60s sessions to her latest disc (Musical Echoes, 2002), in essence releasing a greatest hits compilation--though who in jazz makes hit records?! Benjamin wisely selects an array of gems, particularly her standout original South African roots numbers Africa and Children of Soweto. Both are features for two close musical partners: bassist Buster Williams--whose inimitable resonant bass adds essential foundation--and pianist Onaje Allan Gumbs, resplendent with chordal block, churchy blues. Dig those ubiquitous South African ...read more
Legions of jazz singers are out there these days with good chops and solid work. What is often missing, however, is that individual spark, those personal qualities that set the singer apart from the rest. Sathima Bea Benjamin possesses that spark, with a unique, aching quality in her voice that meshes well with the spirituality that informs her song readings. She can seamlessly move from mournful expression to joyous near exultation, and the SongSpirit compendium brims with these gifts.
This sampling of her work on Ekapa Records from 1963 to 2002, recorded across three continents, finds Benjamin in illustrious company: ...read more
Having had the pleasure of hearing the most recent of Sathima Bea Benjamin's albums, Musical Echoes, some six months ago, I'm hesitant to add any more superlatives now that this retrospective look at the career of one of our finest jazz vocalists is about to be released. SongSpirit covers recordings made from 1963-2002. This collection of recordings shows Benjamin's affinity for pianists and includes the participation of some of the best: including Duke Ellington, Kenny Barron, Larry Willis and, of course, Abdullah Ibrahim, her husband.
The dozen selections include songs borrowed from the Great American Songbook, plus some ...read more
By Sathima Bea Benjamin
Its jazz is both similar and different from American jazz. First of all, at the time--the late '40s-50s--we wouldn't even call it jazz if we didn't identify so completely with Black Americans, both in social and political ways. In South Africa and Cape Town especially, you've got the White people and African people and their tribes, but the Coloreds were like a buffer zone--we were never made to feel a sense of pride in our heritage. So I remember when I first heard that colored folks lived in America--it made me feel good to know that ...read more
A best of compilation of Sathima Bea Benjamin's work between 1963 and 2002, SongSpirit lets emotions soar through the poignant themes that she's chosen to represent over the years. Whether she's interpreting jazz standards or telling personal stories about her undying dedication to her homeland, Benjamin always gives it a hundred percent. The fact that she prefers to work with various jazz piano trios from the higher echelons means that we get nothing but the best.
The previously unreleased It Never Entered My Mind is a duet with pianist Abdullah Ibrahim that was made in 1973. Together, husband ...read more
Musical Echoes marks Sathima Bea Benjamin's return to recording after Cape Town Love (1999). This album was recorded in her hometown, Cape Town, and reflects a certain sense of return for the vocalist. My own association with her music goes back to 1979 and her second album, Sathima Sings Ellington, the first release on her own Ekapa label. Over the years, I've continued to be impressed with her unique voice and consistency. Upon hearing this 2006 update, I have to conclude that, from a historical perspective, Benjamin has the qualities that place a distinctive jazz vocalist in their own category, ...read more
Sathima Bea Benjamin recorded this program of jazz standards in February 2002 when she returned to Cape Town to reconnect. The bassist and drummer working with her are from South Africa. The music, however, is universal.
Benjamin uses her veteran ears to experiment with pitch, and her accompanists follow suit. Bassist Basil Moses slides gently through Caravan, for example, bringing its exotic sheen out into the daylight. Pianist Stephen Scott provides dense harmony, drummer Lulu Gontsana adds unique rhythmic syncopation, and Benjamin has the freedom to interpret each song with her own approach. She's on her own, with ...read more
Sathima Bea Benjamin can't recollect her last New York City gig, but she imagines it was well over a half dozen years ago. For some odd reason her talents have inexplicably been kept under wraps for most of her career. Married for over 40 years to pianist and fellow South African Abdullah Ibrahim, a member of the many jazz vocalist-to-instrumentalist marriages (e.g. Ingrid Sertso to Karl Berger; Judi Silvano to Joe Lovano; Irene Aebi to Steve Lacy), Benjamin's work outside her wedded affiliation has been the most illustrious with a discography of some nine sessions as leader. ...read more
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