A Tribute in Music to Ibrahima Sylla


ibrahima-syllaI had meant to do my first post of 2014 in a festive spirit: re-living the intensely fun and crazy moments I had as a jury member for The Orchard’s Got Talent at our annual get together. It was something special and the truth is that although I had meant to be sarcastic and harsh in my role, it was very difficult faced with the real talent and sheer courage of every single act that got up on stage and performed — some said I managed still and others said I was too kind so I guess I sort of walked the line.

But on my return to the Paris office, before I had put pen to paper (yes I do still need rapidly indecipherable squiggles to help me think), I heard the sad and bad news of the passing of someone I had worked with over the last twenty-five years — a great Producer of African music, Ibrahima Sylla.

It was not unexpected — he had been suffering for a while — but he had a strength that made you expect him to always come out successfully, as he had done from so many complicated situations as the key player in the most ambitious projects with the biggest stars in African music: Youssou N’Dour, Salif Keita, Mory Kante, Baaba Maal, Ismael Lo… just to name a few who are best known to Western audiences and who all had a respect tinged with awe for this founder of an African Motown. I first worked with his releases in physical distribution, exporting the music he was bringing out in France to as many parts of the globe that could afford to legally pay for music, and then consulted for him directly on International Sales as the “Digital” era started to become a reality. This included setting up physical and digital download distribution worldwide for his catalogue via his different deals — always feeling in deep waters but ones that he navigated with skill.

He had a catalogue that included historical treasures from the roots of Mali-Guinean music of Independence — countries are not always defined by their boundaries in this part of the world, as he helped me understand — Dance music from Congo, great voices from Senegal that needed to be shared with other cultures, and perhaps most notably a fusion of African and Latin traditions that found its epitome in the Africando project, the first African release to hit the charts in the USA .

I have made a purely subjective playlist which you can listen to on Spotify and/or Deezer. It’s comprised of recordings that he produced but also ones that he helped make possible, ones that could never have happened without his input into the development and popularization of African music worldwide and ones that probably influenced him, when as a young man he decided againts being a lawyer in favor of becoming “Sylla.”

We at The Orchard have the immense fortune of continuing to distribute the vast majority of his productions essentially through two labels: Sterns African Music and Frochot Cantos, and I continue to encourage the sharing of this musical richness through every means possible. Playlists like the one below are perfect for this since they are not restricted to any one source but encompass many different aspects of his musical vision. And though the list of must-have albums from Sylla’s catalogue can be daunting, it is a treasure trove of permanent delights and surprises.

Rest in Peace, Ibrahima Sylla. Your work will long outlive you.