Rudy Gomis, a masterful collaborator who kept the diversity of Senegalese music alive
The world has lost one of the great pioneers of the post-independence movement of modern popular music in Senegal. After a long illness, Rudolphe “Rudy” Clément Gomis – co-founder of the famous Orchestra Baobab, bandleader, composer, singer and percussionist – passed away on 27 April 2022 aged 75 in his native city, Ziguinchor, the capital of the Casamance region in southern Senegal.
He had not been able to perform with the dance band for some time, but his hypnotic ballads such as Coumba and Utrus Horas – with their powerful lyrics, luxurious melodies and deep groove – remain among Baobab’s most iconic songs, still entrancing after nearly half a century.
As a singer and songwriter, Gomis had a genius for “fusing humour with melancholy,” as veteran singer Amadou Sarr said to me in a note from his old friend’s funeral. This was not just in Gomis’ philosophical and metaphorical lyrics, but also in his talent for soulful melodies. On songs like Coumba, his slightly rough, expressive voice moves beautifully between pathos and optimism.
Gomis was a key player in creating the distinctive style of Orchestra Baobab, a band made up of outstanding musicians from different parts of Senegal as well as from Mali and Togo. Much of their success was due to his leadership qualities and collaborative spirit. Fifty years on, Orchestra Baobab continues to keep alive the diversity of music in Senegal and travel the world with it, thanks in no small part to Gomis.
The early years of Orchestra Baobab
Gomis was the last surviving of the band’s founders. He formed Orchestra Baobab in 1970 in Dakar together with two other exceptional musicians, the singer Balla Sidibé also from Casamance, and Berthèlemy Atisso, the guitarist from Togo. They had already been working together in a small band called Standard, incubating a collaborative, cosmopolitan and varied style.