RIP: Top African Music Producer, Ibrahim Sylla

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Ibrahim Sylla just passed away. He was only 57. He produced some of our favorite African music. Artists like Oumou Sangare, Youssou N’Dour, Empire Bakuba, Alpha Blondy, Les 4 Etoiles, Pepe Kalle, Ismael Lo, The Rail and Super Rail bands, Baaba Maal, Sam Mangwana, Salif Keita, Orchestra Baobab, Thione Seck Mbilia Bel, Tshala Muana, Gnonnas Pedro; Sylla produced all six Africando albums, which gave Africa’s take on Cuban and Puerto Rican music, including the recent hit release Viva Africando, which had musicians from many different African countries (Senegal, Guinea, Cape Verde, Congo, Benin) uniting top African stars with the superb Oscar Hernandez, leader of the Spanish Harlem Orchestra. Sylla’s discography is indeed long, covering an amazing musical career that has ended way too short. Viva Africando was his last production, but there may be others in the can awaiting release.

Ibrahim Sylla was born in 1955 in Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast). His parents were from neighboring French Guinea, but moved to Dakar, Senegal, when he was young. Dakar, like most port cities, has many influences coming in and going out, resulting in a cultural smorgasbord of sorts.

In 1991, when I met him, he shuttled from Kinshasha to Dakar to Paris to Brussels. He even had a telephone in his car…remember this was 1991, and only top executives at the powerhouse label A&M had them at the time. Indeed, Sylla was working all the time.

If there was ever a Quincy Jones of Pan-African popular music, it was Ibrahim Sylla. He also produced superb anthologies of Cuban music with a curator’s touch: he had a sensitive feel for all tropical music, Cuban, African, all of it. He also produced a number of great tropical anthologies for the Sono label in the 1990’s. Click here to read my past post on my meeting with Sylla in Paris.

57 is too short a life for a man of such vision and producer talent. The world of African pop music has lost a giant. And so have we.

Below are just a few eternal albums Ibrahim Sylla produced.

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Here is a cool video of the great group Africando…it’s a song from an earlier album. The ad that precedes it isn’t that long.