Salif Keita - Biography

Salif Keïta is a Malian afro-pop singer-songwriter known affectionately as "The Golden Voice of Africa." His music combines West African music aspects (often employing balafons, djembes, and koras) with influences from both Europe and the Americas (often employing guitars, organs, saxophones, and synthesizers) whilst maintaining ano overall, recognizably Islamic feel.


Salif Keïta was born into Mali's royal caste on August 25th, 1949 in the city of Djoliba, a direct descendant of the founder of the Mali Empire, Sundiata Keïta. However, his desire to sing (traditionally reserved for those of the griot caste) and his albinism resulted in his ostracization from his family. Keïta left Djoliba for Bamako in 1967, where he joined the famed, government sponsored Super Rail Band, which also featured highly-regarded guitar player Kante Manfila. In 1973, Keïta and several members of the Rail Band fled unrest in Mali to Abidjian, Cote d'Ivoire and formed the Malian-Zairean-Cuban Les Ambassadeurs Internationaux. In 1977, Keïta received a National Order award from Guinea’s then-president, Sékou Touré. His first proper solo album was Seydou Bathili (1982).


Les Ambassadeurs disbanded in 1984 when Keïta moved to Montreuil, Paris, home to roughly 15,000 Malians. As Salif Keïta, Ambassadeur International, he released Mandjou (1984 Celluloid). As with much of Keïta’s work, many western critics found its 20th century sound not to their Western tastes. Keïta was picked up by Island for 1987's Ibrahim Sylla's produced Soro (Mango). The Weather Report-influenced Ko-Yán (1989 Mango) continued to incorporate synths and 80's production. Amen (1991 Mango) included appearances from Wayne Shorter, Carlos Santana & Joe Zawinul and resulted in the first Grammy nomination (but not win) for the notoriously behind-the-times Grammys. The solo Destiny of a Noble Outcast (1991 PolyGram) was followed by a collaborative film score credited to "Salif Keïta et Steve Hillage,” L’Enfant Lion (1993 Mango). Arranger Jean-Philippe Rykiel, who'd worked on Soro, returned for the much more traditional, Wally Badarou-produced "Folon"...The Past (1995 Mango), which contained a dedication to Nelson Mandela as well as albinos, and featured Keïta's albino nice Natnelin on the cover.


Despite the fact that Sosie (1997 MS Verdenshjørnet) featured collaborations from big names including Grace Jones, Toumani Diabaté and Vernon Reid; the fact that it was in French resulted in his label refusing to release it, so it came out through a tiny Dutch company. Its follow-up, Papa (1999 Metro Blue) featured Toumani Diabate on kora and Keletigui Diabate on balafon but was, despite the presence of fairly traditionalist African musicians, a return to Keïta's more rock-oriented recordings.


Keïta returned home to Mali in 2001 and built a music studio in Bamako. He also opened a club in Bamako and released an album, Moffou (2001 EmArcy) which featured old bandmate Kante Manfila and Djeli Moussa Kouyaté on guitar and highlighted Keïta's mellower, pared-down side. The club-oriented Remixes form Mouffa (2004 EmArcy) was on the other end of the spectrum. M'Bemba (2005 Universal) was another return to more African traditionalism, employing okra and his foster sisters as vocalists although the much touched on Cuban, French and American influences as well. The same year, Salif Keïta/Kante Manfila released a series of lengthy, primarily acoustic tracks recorded in 1980, The Lost Album (2005 Syllart). La Différence (2009), is dedicated to fellow albinos and was recorded not just in Mali, but Beirut, Los Angeles and Paris as well. He followed this with Tale in 2012.



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