Balla Sidibé — co-founder, percussionist, and vocalist for the Senegalese band Orchestra Baobab — has passed away at the age of 78, following a short illness. Their label World Circuit announced yesterday on Twitter, "Balla was a giant of African music and a great and gentle man.” Darek Mazzone, host of KEXP's Wo'Pop added, "Balla Sidibé created such a beautiful vibe with Orchestra Baobab. The flavor of the band was timeless and it was being rediscovered by a new generation that fell in love with the sound. I play his music often and with each listen I discover something new that makes my day better."
Formed in 1970 to perform at the newly-opened Baobab Club in Dakar, Orchestra Baobab quickly rose to fame with their unique West African dance sound, combining elements of Cuban rhythms, Afro-Latin influence, soul, jazz, and traditional music. Their popularity surpassed the walls of the club, and over their nearly-twenty-year career, they released over twenty albums before disbanding in 1987. The group reformed in 2001 following a critically-lauded reunion performance at the Barbican Centre in London, and released three more albums. The band confirm via their Facebook page that Sidibé "was rehearsing new material with the group only yesterday."
"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."