Orchestra Baobab’s Balla Sidibe, a ‘giant’ of music, dies

Tributes pour in for founding member of iconic Afro-Latin group Orchestra Baobab, established in Senegal 50 years ago.

Balla Sidibe
Senegalese Orchestra Baobab musician Thierno Koite at a news conference during the Womad Music Festival in Caceres, Spain in May 2018 [File: Esteban Martinena/EPA-EFE]

Balla Sidibe, a founding member and singer of the legendary Senegalese group Orchestra Baobab, has died in Dakar.

Sidibe died in his sleep “after a very full day of rehearsals with his musical comrades”, Senegal’s music association said in a statement, adding that it had lost “a father, a sage and a friend”.

Local media said Sidibe, who was also a percussionist, died after “a short illness”, without giving further details. He was in his 60s.

Established in 1970, Orchestra Baobab fused Cuban rhythms, soul and jazz with traditional music from Senegal and other parts of Africa to become one of the most successful groups to emerge from the time.

After a long hiatus, Orchestra Baobab reformed to international acclaim in the early 2000s.

The news of Sidibe’s death prompted an outpouring of grief by fellow musicians and fans.

“Sidibe was the doyen of the Orchestra,” bandmate Thierno Kouyate told the Senegal Press Agency. 

“Frankly, we have lost two monumental musicians without compare since he was a singer and a timpani drummer – bringing the two roles together. It’s very difficult.”

World Circuit Records, the label that in 1989 released Pirate’s Choice, an album that captured Orchestra Baobab in one of their last sessions before their 1982 disbanding, described Sidibe as “a giant of African music and a great and gentle man”.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies