Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Track of the Week

Sali Sidibe – Yacouba Sylla

This week’s song was a discovery of complete chance. The song was found whilst researching the life of the Aston Villa player Yacouba Sylla – who is also from Mali. Believing this song may be about the young midfielder it was a strange to read that this week’s song was written in 1996 when the footballer was only 6 years old.

In the opinion of the person who posted the song onto YouTube Sali Sidibe is:

“One of Mali’s greatest female vocalists and recorded her first singles in the ’60s and helped lay the foundation for the Wassoulou music sound of the ’80s. She was also a former singer with the National Ensemble of Mali.”

They continue stating that:

“Her earthy, powerful vocals are set to a unique blend of didai, sigui, and sogonikun dance rhythms. In 1993 she released her first solo album, Wassoulou Foli.”

This high opinion is reiterated by Frank Bessem:

“In the footsteps of the pioneers Kagbe Sidibé and Coumba Sidibé, Sali became one of the most popular Wassoulou singers in Mali.”

Wassoulou is a region of deep south-western Mali on the borders of Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire. It’s music – performed mostly by women uses traditional instruments like the soku and the kamalen n’goni (a six-stringed harp) in a progressive manner; placing women in a position to address the vocalise on issues that concern them. The prominence of Wassoulou music may go some way to explain how some liberties for women are respected highly despite Malian society on the whole being ranked as one of the world’s most unequal. Legendary Wassoulou musician Oumou Sangaré for example found great resonance, fame and popularity across West Africa for using her songs to address the issue of freedom of choice in marriage.

But according to Frank Bessem, Sidi Sidibe had had a musical hit in Mali before “anyone had heard of Oumou Sangaré“. Perhaps Sidi Sidibe was the original Wassoulou musician of this popular age of Malian music. However, it is not yet understood who the original Yacouba Sylla was.

If we ever find out we’ll let you know.

Sidi Sidibe – Yacouba Sylla

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