Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

Ballaké Sissoko – Famade

Africa cultural assets are in demand. African music, fashion and art are excelling in all corners of the globe. Even its TV personalities are taking over; this week South African comedian Trevor Noah was unveiled as Jon Stewart’s successor on the hugely popular comedy-satire programme The Daily Show.

Mali’s part in this blooming global African identity has overwhelmingly been its music, as we all know. However, Mali’s contributions and interactions with the world of art and culture is not exclusively musical. The city of Bamako is home to Ballaké Sissoko, master kora player and this week’s Artist of the Week. Bamako is also home to legendary photographer Malick Sidibé. Born in 1935 in what was then French Sudan, Sidibé, known as the “Eye of Bamako”, still resides in the city today. Sidibé’s work is famous for exploring, documenting and capturing the cultural and social change that occurred in immediate post-colonial Mali in the 1960s & 70s. He did this through thousands of photographs and drawings, famously in black and white. Sidibé’s work was not immediately recognised internationally, though today it is very valuable and some of his work went on sale in London this week. He more or less completed his major work by the 1980s yet is still an active visual artist – recently completing a fashion shoot for the New York Times.

In some ways, it sounds like a similar story to that of Mali’s music: once it was discovered by the world, especially its desert blues, people were compelled by its modernity and amazed by its history. The most boggling part of all is how familiar all African art seems. It leads us to think that the last 50, 60 years has not been a process of discovery but of reconnection. With art no longer oppressed and contorted through colonial dialogue into exotica, independent Africa is now playing catch-up and perhaps it is finally getting up to to speed. Artists like Malick Sidibé and Ballaké Sissoko, particularly for his ground-breaking collaborative work, will be admired for years to come, and we hope will be remembered for being just the beginning.


Ballaké Sissoko – Famade

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