Malick Sidibé, Malian photographer, has died at 80. Sidibé’s black and white photos captured the golden era of Malian music and culture during the 1960’s, a time of optimism, pride, pan-africanism, and joy. With the death of fellow Malian photographer Seydou Keita (1921-2001), Sidibé had been the only remaining photographic chronicler of a golden age.
Sidibé’s photos are full of post-independence joy. People came to his studio to be photographed, wearing their favorite bell bottoms and latest fashions. He frequented the happening clubs in Bamako, finding there the hottest new dance moves to the latest American soul music, Cuban hits, and especially the sizzling Congolese rumba that was coming into Mali from Kinshasha and Brazzaville. Sidibé’s images also captured budding love: couples cooing outside the clubs, cooling off in the Niger river.
The club culture of Bamako during this period required a bespoke dress code. According to the New York Times, Sidibe once recalled, “Every Saturday night you had to dress elegantly. People would plan their outfits all week long. To make an impression, you had to be impeccable, with a trouser crease so sharp you could cut off the head of a chicken with it.”
Malick Sidibe’s photos celebrate the brief period of ebullience that came after French Sudan became Mali — people joyfully dancing to Boubacar Traore’s huge hit “Mali Twist” (Malian cover of Chubby Checker’s hit) or to Congolese rumba featuring Le Grand Kalle (Joseph Kabasele), Franco, Tabu Ley Rochereau & African Fiesta, and other giants. What we see in his photos, taken with his hard-working Rolleiflex, is a far cry from what Mali is going through today.
Reflecting on this golden period of Bamako, Sidibé told the Telegraph, “I loved the music and the atmosphere, but above all I loved the dancers. The moments when young people dance and play as though the stars belong to them–that’s what I loved the most.”
Sidibé’s photography was first introduced in Europe by a photographic curator named André Magnin, who organized an exhibition of his work at the Cartier Foundation for Contemporary Art in Paris, later publishing Sidibé’s first book of photos. I have his books and treasure them. Looking at his photos brings joy, pure and simple.
Here is the trailer from a documentary about him, “Dolce Vita Africana,” shown on British television in 2008. The music playing underneath is by the Senegalese outfit Orchestra Baobab:
Next is Boubacar Traore and his big 1963 hit, “Mali Twist.” Boubacar says at the outset of this song, “During independence I went to Radio Mali. I made eight songs, that launched me. Everbody liked this music at Radio Mali, there was “Mali Twist”, “Kayes Ba” and “Mariama.” This song launched me, during these days you would do only one “band” on the radio. Well since I sung, my song made a huge success, Radio Mali played it night and day.” (translated by Joan Gonzalvez)
Note the album was on Syllart records, the powerhouse label founded by the late Ibrahim Sylla that launched the careers of Oumou Sangare, Salif Keita, and many other African superstars. Click here to read about his illustrious career — think the African Quincy Jones.