Keita's legend as one of the bright lights on the African music scene for nearly about three decades is rooted in one of his evergreen musical pieces "Africa", which is perhaps the most widely acclaimed self-titled and themed song for the continent.
Pa Salif Keïta, born 25 August 1949, is a Malian singer-songwriter, referred to as the "Golden Voice of Africa". He is a member of the Keita royal family of Mali. He was born a traditional prince in the village of Djoliba, in the capital city of Bamako, Mali. This royal family have traced their lineage back to Sundiata Keita, founder of the Mali Empire.
He was cast out by his family and ostracized by the community because of his albinism, a sign of bad luck in the Mandinka culture of his village. He decided to pursue music in his teenage years, further distancing him from his family as that was against occupational prohibitions of his noble status. His dream was to become a teacher, however unfortunately that dream never came to life. He said in an interview, - “I was a good student. My dream was to be a teacher, but in those days, you had to ask the government to find you a post. After I finished my studies, the doctor [at the training school] told me I couldn’t be a teacher because I would scare the children. They also said it was because of my eyes… but I had special glasses and could see perfectly well.”
In 1967, he left Djoliba for Bamako, where he joined the government-sponsored Super Rail Band de Bamako. In 1973, Keita joined the group 'Les Ambassadeurs' (du Motel de Bamako). Keita and Les Ambassadeurs fled political unrest in Mali during the mid-1970s and subsequently changed the group's name to Les Ambassadeurs Internationaux. After fleeing Mali, they settled in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, where they struggled financially and often had to rent equipment to perform shows. The reputation of this band however continued to grow internationally in the late-1970s, and their 1978 album, "Mandjou", became an overnight success in West Africa.
In 1976, Sékou Touré, the President of Guinea, made Keita an Officer of Guinea's National Order of Merit. The President had been a fan of Keita and the band since they met on an official visit in 1974. Keita eventually moved to Paris in 1984 in a bid to reach a larger audience and to pursue a solo career. His music combined traditional West African music styles with influences from both Europe and the Americas. At that time, Keita was famous in Africa and had a strong fan base among connoisseurs around the world. "Soro" became his international-breakthrough album in 1987. Musical instruments that are commonly featured in Keita's work include balafons, djembes, guitars, koras, organs, saxophones, and synthesizers.
Keita found success in Europe as one of the African stars of world music, and he soon returned to Bamako, Mali to live and record music. His first work after going home, 2002's Moffou, was hailed as his best album in many years, and Keita was inspired to build a recording studio in Bamako, which he used for his album M'Bemba, released in October 2005. Keita has so far released over 22 bodies of work in different formats, all credited to him.
He is married to Coumba Makalou Keita. He is a father to three children - Nantenin, a French athlete who is a world Paralympics champion, Sidyki and Nahhila Yeelene Keita. Salif Keita is a man who is passionate about raising awareness of albinism. As a person who faced the struggles of albinos first hand, he campaigns for equal treatment of the people in the society. His soaring voice gave him the platform to sing his heart out and encourage those that think that they cannot make it because of their predisposing conditions.
credit: Samuel Adedoyin /editor: ToluRock