For his hunger for Impact, SALIF KEITA is Discover Africa News Musician of the Year 2018
At 69 years, the Africa crooner, and all-time African global music star, Salif Keita has impacted the world through Music. And he is even more determined to impact his society. He was born on August 25, 1949. ‘Disabled’ at birth, the albino Malian musician had reasons to give up his dreams. Though born into a royal family, the natural pigmentation of his body forced his kinsmen to disown him because they saw his albinism as bringer of bad luck. But that was just the beginning of the many successes of Salif.
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. Keita and Les Ambassadeurs fled political unrest in Mali during the mid-1970s for Abidjan, Ivory Coast, and subsequently changed the group’s name to “Les Ambassadeurs Internationaux”. The reputation of Les Ambassadeurs Internationaux rose to the international level in the 1970s, and in 1977 Keita received a National Order award from the president of Guinea, Sékou Touré.
Keita found success in Europe as one of the African stars of world music. Shortly after the turn of the millennium he returned to Bamako in Mali to live and record. 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’s album La Différence was produced around the end of 2009. The work is dedicated to the struggle of the world albino community (victims of human sacrifice), for which Keita has been crusading all his life.
Today, Salif has made his mark in the entertainment industry crested on his personal resolve to succeed. If Salif should say Eureka at his present status, he is by no means a mean man. But he has announced that he is leaving his comfort zone of singing music to another terrain of social activism to preach against social discrimination against albinism.
Known as the “golden voice of Africa” Salif Keita is retiring to his Global Foundation set up to support people with albinism in their home country of Mali and other African nations.
His wife, Coumba Makalou, has been managing the Foundation while Salif explored the music industry.
She said her husband is giving up making albums so he can spend more time fighting the stigma that some fellow albinos in Africa face.
Keita made the decision after completing his last album Un Autre Blanc (Another White), which was released earlier last month.
People with albinism – a genetic condition leading to a lack pigment in their skin – are hunted down in several African countries, including Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania because of the belief that potions made from their body parts can bring good luck and wealth.
The foundation is based in the US, but provides grants for health services and legal assistance for those at risk of persecution – and distributes hundreds of tubes of sunscreen, sunglasses and hats each year.
Mrs Keita said: “Because of this and his fame it definitely helps to bring a focus and media attention to people with albinism in Mali and other places in the world, so his presence is very important, his name is very important.”
When he is in the process of making an album, it eats up a huge about of his time, she says.
“He writes and composes all his own music.”
Mrs Keita said: “The title of the album Another White was definitely linked to his albinism because he’s white but he’s not a white man, a white race – so he’s another type of white.”
The concert where he launched the album in the town of Fana, 126km (78 miles) east of Mali’s capital, Bamako, where a five-year-old girl with albinism, Ramata Diarra, was ritually killed and beheaded in May.
He dedicated the concert to Ramata – and the shocking murder prompted him to take his activism more seriously.
Keita has been a fighter since he was young – disowned by his father for choosing music as his career he has become one Africa’s most influential musicians with his unique style of blending a range of local African music with popular genres such as jazz, rhythm and blues.
His wife says his retirement from album making won’t mean he’ll stop performing altogether, but it will give him more time to concentrate on another of his surprising interests – farming.
“We have a lot of land in Mali and his father was a farmer so he’d like to do some work on that too.”
Considering the peculiarity of circumstances in life and how he managed them to become who he is today and his determination to fight on, Salif Keita is Discover Africa News Musician of the Year 2018.