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Regulars / Friday Mixtape

Friday Mixtape: Rita Ray on curating the Malick Sidibé exhibition soundtrack

This week’s Friday Mixtape is created by DJ, presenter and all-round incredible woman Rita Ray.

An authority on African music, Rita curated a soundscape to surround the Malick Sidibé exhibition currently on display at Somerset House in London. The exhibition presents Malick’s photography, which is celebrated for chronicling the culture of Bamako, the capital of Mali when the country gained independence in 1960.

The playlist accompanies the photographs within the exhibition and recreates the soul of the nightclubs Malick Sidibé would have visited and photographed. Her mix features a range of Malian music interspersed with British and American rock and roll.

Malick Sidibé: The Eye of Modern Mali, will be on at Somerset House until 26 February 2017.

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Malick Sidibé: A Moi Seul (1978). Courtesy: Galerie Magnin-A

What was your process for curating music for the exhibition?

Malick Sidibé once said, “Music was the real revolution… We were entering a new era, and people wanted to dance. Music freed us”. The soundscape in the exhibition is a fragmented mix of timeless acoustic roots music and groundbreaking electric fusions from the context in which Sidibé was working.

Were there particular regions you focused upon to curate the playlist?

The seismic changes of the 1960s and 1970s drove young Africans to reclaim and reshape their rich cultural traditions and assert new post-independence identities through the prism of music, fashion and art. It was a time of great cross-fertilisation, experimentation and collaboration. The musical alchemists among them resurrected Afro Roots music and blended age-old melodies and rhythms with exotic foreign textures introduced by visiting musicians and merchant seamen. The playlist gives a snapshot of Mali’s diverse musical riches and a tiny sample of the hits coming out of Senegal, Benin, the Gambia and beyond.

Did the fact that the playlist was to be played within an exhibition setting change your choices?

We hope that the soundtrack adds meaning to the photographs on display. The people so vividly immortalised in Malick Sidibé’s photos may have heard these tunes playing in newly accessible clubs, on the radio, at parties, on the streets and in the markets of Bamako. And in Sidibé’s studio itself, where it was often described as being “like a party”.

Do you have any particular favourites?

The post-independence era spawned revered artists and created some of the enduring classics we cherish today: Ali Farka’s blues guitar, and the beguiling yet declamatory voice of Fanta Sacko who paved the way for future female singers, as did Mbilia Bel and Miriam Makeba – or Mama Africa as she was known. E.T. Mensah laid the foundation for the hiplife and Afrobeats to come, and Charlotte Dada reached out with her Africanised cover of The Beatles’ Don’t Let Me Down.