• Salif Keita: 51 years on, the King is still king at 70

    BAMAKO (Mali) – After just over five decades of wowing fans on stage, composing and recording music that gets Africa and the world dancing, 70-year-old Salif Keita remains the African king whose memories will stand the test of time, even if the world ceases to exist. This is a tribute to an African icon.

    His melancholic and mysterious voice sends a deep chill down his fans’ spine, echoes in the deep forest, rises over mountains and relieves the stresss. This is a tangible proof of his royal blood’s powerful karma inherited from his direct ancestor Soundiata Keita. Soundiata, the Mandingue Lion, was the founder of the Mali Empire in the 13th century.

    The two Keita have something in common, they have been leaders and lions. As a leader, Soundiata tried hard to unify the kingdoms of West Africa, fragmented since the fall of the Ghana Empire. Storytellers credit him for uniting all ethnic groups, organising society into clans with no hierarchical relationship between them. He also assigned lands, rights and duties to everyone.

    His descendant’s lovely music – galvanised by his status of albinism – sends a message of peace, love, tolerance and brotherhood.

    They are both lions because they dared challenging the unchallengeable. Soundiata fought against the King of Sosso, the untouchable and mystic Soumaoro Kanté, and won the battle to become the Mansa of Mansa (the King of kings). Salif, an artist of modern times and pionner of non-violence, uses art to preach love, which he said in an interview penetrates everywhere harder than the bullets of a gun.

    “The artist’s role is to say things and give love, to bring people together and rearrange human sheets,” he said in another interview.

    Humble begininings

    His birth on 25 August 1949 in Djoliba, a Malian village on the banks of the Niger River where several peoples (Bambara, Malinké, Soninké) lived in harmony, caused a scandal in the family. If it had not been for a religious leader (Imam), his father would have sent his wife and the “white” boy away.

    Reports from Mali say Keita suffered a lot from his state of albinism. He was excluded from school when he had difficulty attending classes normally like other students. In a country that houses one of the largest albino populations in Africa, the boy was often mocked and marginalised by some of his classmates and neighbours.

    But he fought that kind of rejection, discrimination and gossip about his skin by taking the first giant steps that took him to the top of the world.

    Therefore, when the griot (praise-singer in West Africa) launched La Fondation Salif Keita pour les Albinos” in 2005, the writing was on the wall for those who mock the albinos and senselessly kill them to use their body parts for wealth purposes. He and his daugther, Nantenin Keita – also an albino – are currently taking care of the foundation.

    “Un Autre Blanc”

    This is the title of his last album released towards the end of 2018. Despite this however, at 70 years of age he is not going anywhere anytime soon. Not hanging his mike, yet but he will still play on stage.

    As someone who successfully manages to mix different sounds and beats during his illustrious career, Salif has, in “Un Autre Blanc” (another white), featured several artists, including Benin’s Angelique Kidjo, Nigeria’s Yemi Alade, France’s talented rapper MHD, Ivory Coast reggae legend Alpha Blondy and South Africa’s Grammy Awards-winning Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

    The King is still king, long live the King.

    *Pic Credit: Radio France Internationale

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