Salif Keita wasn’t meant to become a musician. As a direct descendant of Sundiata Keita, the warrior king who founded the Malian empire in the 1200s, the singer belong to a venerable caste among the Mandinka people. So-called jeli – professional troubadours – on the other hand, are in the other end of the social hierarchy.
He thus made a bold choice when he at the end of his teens decided to become a musician in the big city. Blessed with a throat of the rare kind, he was shortly after inaugurated into the Super Rail Band, the government-funded house band at the central station in Bamako (gosh, even Mory Kanté was a member at one point).
It was with the foundation of the legendary Les Ambassadeurs in 1975 that his unmistakable voice really reached its great heights. On releases from this period the ensemble shines like the sun: Effortless highlife is seamlessly weaved together with Caribbean rhythms, while Keita sings like he’s taking his last breath.
The 66 years old singer continues to defy norms. On his solo debut Soro he made a triumphant foray into synth pop, while he gave contemporary club music a shot on his last full length album thus far, Talé. Even still it’s the more traditional Moffou that remains Salif Keita masterpiece from the 2000s: A matured and hushed, yet fiercely vital journey into a multifaceted spirit of music.
Which is exactly what you get whenever the Golden Voice of Africa – as he’s called – enters the stage.
Double concert with Sidiki Camara Group.
Text: Kim Klev