Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Coumba Sidibe 1959 - 2009

. . . has passed to the ancestors.

I got the call with the sad news from a Malian friend today. Coumba was a pioneer, one of the women who helped create what we now know as the Wassoulou style of music. In the 60s and 70s in Mali, music in the Wassoulou region was transforming from sacred and traditional to the popular front, with that transition being led by female singers including Coumba and mali n'goni players who transformed that instrument from 4 strings (doson'goni) to 6 strings (kameln'goni).

I first met Coumba through a friend Mamadou Sidibe, a n'goni player who was living in NYC at the time. He introduced me to Coumba, and with the assistance of Moussa Traore, I produced/promoted/managed a show for Coumba in Cambridge, MA. The show was amazing, and featured Ramata Diakite on backing vocals for Coumba. Mamadou had initially come to the US with Coumba, and for that reason alone, I am grateful to Coumba. However, further, Coumba opened up the path for artists like Ramata Diakite and Oumou Sangare, and now generations of female singers to rise in Mali.

Coumba had been brought back to the front of my mind in late April when some filmmakers sought me out to find Coumba. I sincerely hope that they were able to find her, and talk with her, and film her before she passed. Too often it seems that artists only get their due after they have passed.

Megan Romer has a nice write-up as does Banning Eyre of Afropop Worldwide. Apparently the radio in Mali is all abuzz with the news and playing her music. In that vein - some video below (i'll try and dig up audio from that show in cambridge and/or find my CDs of hers and rip them).

Coumba - Thank You, may your transition to the ancestors be easy, may you continue to lead, may you not be forgotten, and may you rest in peace.

mp3 Downloads from Amazon

mp3 Downloads from eMusic

mp3s from LimeWire Store

From Coumba's bio I wrote up for the show in Cambridge:

Coumba Sidibé was born in 1959 in the Wassoulou region of Mali, West Africa in the village of Koniko. She was born to family of singers and dancers. Her grandparents were some of the most famous singers in the region, and her father was a famous dancer of the Sokomkou masks and secret societies.

When she was 8, Coumba sang in place of her mother at a wedding. Even at this early age, her talent and musicianship was apparent. From this point forward, she was a regular at weddings and other cultural ceremonies. From 1974 until 1977 (from the ages of 15 to 18) she won “Best Female Vocalist” in the National Competitions held in Mali’s capital, Bamako.

She then shifted her attention to a group setting, and became a member of the Ensemble Instrumental National du Mali. Coumba also started performing as the lead singer of her own group in the early 1980’s.

Coumba’s first album was the highest selling album ever in Africa for a female vocalist. Coumba’s significant touring in support of this and subsequent albums brought Wassoulou music and its distinct singing style to the forefront of the world music scene in Africa, Europe and the United States. After a worldwide tour of almost 10 years, Coumba settled down to tour exclusively in France for a number of years. She has since been performing and raising a family in Mali and New York City.

As Wassoulou music has swept across the globe, legendary singers have followed in the footsteps of Coumba, with Oumou Sangare and Ramata Diakité among those citing Coumba’s work and dedication in their own success.

To say that Coumba Sidibé is a legend does not capture the range and depth of her impact. Her robust, tenor vocal stylings brought Mali to the rest of the world.

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