Abdullah Ibrahim: The Sound of the Universe

Mackenzie Horne By

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AAJ: You've extended these teachings in a more literal sense to educational outreach. The tradition of education is crucial to the continuation of this music, crucial to the continued growth of people—how has that educational tradition changed in your lifetime?

AI: Blood, sweat, and tears! There's this principle of investing in loss, which is a very challenging situation to be in and many people do not have the capacity or destiny to follow that because if you invest in loss, it means that you do not expect anything in return. So that means that that really deals with the ego. But of course you have to use the ego to achieve something but you don't let the ego be dominant. The whole idea of investing in loss is that when I play one note, it should be without any ego embedded in it. So there's this process of refinement, and refinement, and refinement, and refinement within the self so that we can try to be as truthful and as honest as possible with what we present to the audience. Because once I strike the note, there's nothing I can do about it anymore.

AAJ: Do you view yourself as a teacher?

AI: No! Please no! I've never understood this principle, something that is so alien to our own cosmology, and this idea of "mentors" resonates in Africa and Japan this idea of mentors. We have mentors and people who prefer to remain anonymous and tell us, "Don't tell anybody about us! Because if you do, you know the consequences! Don't tell anybody!" From them we learn, just that principle of not wanting everybody to know—this is that idea of investing in loss. And all my teachers, they're all younger than me. They're all incredible people. Some of them are not necessarily musicians. In fact, most of them are not musicians. But that principle of understanding and thinking about it intellectually, this is one position, but actually to put it in practice and invest in loss. I am fortunate that I met and studied with these great teachers who prefer to remain anonymous. I've studied traditional budō in Japan for fifty years and a few years ago my teacher gave me a certificate to teach. I asked my teacher, "why do you give me this? Because I don't know anything." And he said, "That's why I give it to you, because I too don't know anything." It's this mutual journey that we all embark upon.
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