THE “MAMBO DERVISH”
By Robert Knight
“Five O’Clock Shadow”
5 Jun 2013
On the evening of June 3rd, 2013, our dear friend and WBAI colleague Ibrahim Gonzalez passed away at home, in his sleep. Ibrahim was known both personally and institutionally as the “Mambo Dervish,” based on his skill as a bandleader and conga player, for his devotion to Sufi Islam, and for his free-form and musical programs “In The Moment” and “Radio Libre!”
Ibrahim was a co-founder in 1975 of the Allianza Islamica, the nation’s oldest national organization for Latino Muslims, which was then based in his childhood community of East Harlem, before moving to Mott Haven in Ibrahim’s beloved Bronx. Although he was first reared as a Catholic, He said he was not so much converted as he was re-verted to Sufiism.
Ibrahim said of the Islamic Alliance that “Islam represented a place for us to be part of a larger community. When we realized that within Islam there was every spectrum of people, regardless of class, regardless of race, we were attracted to that universal principle of human interaction and communion with the divine.” But the organization’s commitment to nonviolence did not immunize Ibrahim from a 1994 visit from FBI agents, whom Ibrahim characterized as”looking for terrorists.”
However, the most explosive element of Ibrahim’s life was his dynamic mastery of the conga, through which he has composed for symphonies and led his own eponymous orchestra and quintet, as well as the Nuyorican Jazz Experience, among innumerable projects and performances celebrating the Afro-, Caribbean- and Latin rhythms of salsa and Nuyorican culture.
Ibrahim recently headlined a WBAI benefit at the world famous SOB’s, and has appeared at the Bronx Museum, and many other venues. Ibrahim -- always nattily dressed in such trademark outfits as suspenders, bowties, berets, fedoras, Panama hats, sandals, silk shirts and linen suits -- was ubiquitous as the smiling center of a whirlwind of music, daily incarnating his legend as the “Mambo Dervish.”
But Ibrahim’s gifts were so bountiful that not even music could contain them all.
Here at WBAI, Ibrahim’s gentle dialogs and grasp of global affairs earned him his highly acclaimed airtime on such programs as “Wake Up Call,” “Radio Libre!” and his mystical morning show, “In the Moment,” which he described as “a spontaneous mix of eclectic sounds, interviews and live performance.” Prior to his arrival at WBAI, Ibrahim was also featured on the broadcasts of our current CCNY studio hosts, WHCR – Harlem Community Radio.
This Renaissance man also taught Piano, Composition, Digital Audio Production and the History of Latin-Caribbean Music at our alma mater, Manhattan College in Riverdale, and throughout the NYC school system.
Ibrahim Gonzalez is survived by four brothers, five children and eleven grandchildren, numerous nephews and nieces and other relatives located in NY, California, Puerto Rico, Africa and elsewhere, as well as his loving wife, Janet Norquist-Gonzalez, an educator and award-winning cartographer.
On a personal note, your reporter recalls the time late last year when he was hospitalized in his own near-death crisis, the complete recovery from which was aided in no small part by the bedside presence of his beloved friend Ibrahim Gonzalez, who on several occasions roused him from his Propofol stupor into the redemptive joy of hearing Ibrahim read aloud his favorite science fiction novel from an edition too heavy at the time for the then-weakened and unsteady hands of your reporter.
Ibrahim’s healing instincts also extended to his beloved WBAI, where, with staff and management initiatives, and your kind contributions, we together move to a higher state of institutional health. Among Ibrahim’s most recent messages to your reporter was this: “I just want to help.”
This is “Five O’Clock Shadow” on the Pacifica Radio Network, originating at WBAI. I’m Robert Knight in New York.
If you, too, would like to help WBAI survive, please consider making a tax-deductible donation at this time with a call to our pledge center, on behalf of the station so loved by our late friend and colleague. The number is 516-620-3602.
Meanwhile, we now hear Ibrahim Gonzalez in his own words…
Inner Tube 1 - Self Portrait or Getting Acquainted
|Ibrahim Gonzalez on Open|
Bronxnet Community Television
Apr 9, 2013