For Malick Sidibé (1936- 2016)


When you look at Malian photographer Malick Sidibe’s photos, you get transported to a simpler time. For many of us, whose parents or grandparents came of age in the post independence era, they are reminiscent of the black and white photos saved in peeling photo albums. Flaired trousers,  mini dresses, linoleum floors and props in form of flower vases, stools, transistor radios placed in front of the plain or printed backgrounds of photo studios of the time.

I always wonder about those times, young people so hopeful and unjaded, the seeds of corruption perhaps still germinating were yet to be felt, Coup de états and assasinations still not commonplace. HIV/AIDS and the havoc it would wreak — before anti-retroviral medication— was unheard of.

I don’t know about other African countries but in post independence 1960’s Kenya, the government paid for your university education and gave you a comfortable stipend. It was a time when a university degree was a guarantee of a job.

They were the young bright things, a time when the country actually believed in its younger generation and placed great hopes on them. Ever heard of the stories of whole villages coming together to hold Harambees (fundraisers) to send a bright student “our son” to America?


When I see Malick Sidibe’s pictures, I think of such things. Being an African child, school holidays, Fanta Orange and old records that your dad or uncles would play and listen to. His pictures depict the humanity, culture and pride of Africans and continue to inspire many of today’s African photographers.

I’m glad his pictures live on, black and white but so reminiscent of an early African generation finding it’s identity, Western clothes but still traditional. I see the influence of that generation on our generation, from the posed pictures we post on Tumblr to the embracing of African inspired styles. You may look at your mother like she is too old to understand  your struggles today but she was once young like you. She also had fears and hopes too and there are old photos to remind you of this, probably in an old photo album on top of a cupboard somewhere.

Thank you Malick Sidibé for reminding us not to forget. May you rest in power.


I didn’t think this story would be complete without 1970’s music by Ochestre Super Mazembe.



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