Music fans in Nairobi will next week join the world in celebrating one of Africa’s most influential artists whose very successful career is winding down.
Just a month after releasing what he says is the last album of an illustrious 50-year career, Malian legend Salif Keita performs in Nairobi next week as part of his worldwide farewell tour.
“The Golden Voice of Africa” has been on a tour across the US and Europe to promote his final album “Un Autre Blanc” (Another White Man”) that was officially released on October 26 on the French music label Naive Records. The title is obviously a reference to the prejudices and violence that he, and other people living with albinism, face.
As a child, Salif’s pink complexion and yellow hair shocked his father, who shunned him and his mother. His royal blood as a direct descendant of Sundiata Keita, the Mandinka warrior king who founded the Malian empire in the 13 century meant he did not belong to the singing caste known as griot.
Undeterred by these caste restrictions, Salif spent two years, playing the guitar and singing in markets, bars and cafes. His unique voice began to attract attention and soon he was recruited as lead vocalist for The Super Rail band of Bamako in 1967.
In 1973, Keita left the band was replaced by Mory Kante, who was to have a big solo international hit in 1987 with Yeke Yeke. He moved on to a band called Les Ambassadeurs where he met his musical confidant Kante Manfila and brought with him Malian influences to the band’s Afro-Cuban musical style. In 1978, Keita entered a recording studio for the first time to produce the classic “Mandjou” album.
Meanwhile, the political upheavals under the military junta in Mali during the 1970s forced Salif to flee the country, first to the Ivory Coast and eventually to France.
It was in Paris, then home to 15,000 Malians that his music blossomed, blending the traditional griot music of his childhood with influences from the rest of West Africa and Arabic sounds to create the distinctive rhythms heard on classic albums like “Soro”, (1987) and Amen (1991).
His international stardom was confirmed with a performance at the historic Nelson Mandela 70th birthday concert in London in 1988.
Keita has used his stature to highlight the plight of albinos in Africa, first through a foundation called SOS Albinos in Bamako and later the Salif Keita Global Foundation.
“People don’t understand albinism,” he said after performing at an awareness concert in Nairobi in 2010. “It is a shameful act to attack people living with albinism due to lack of information and such acts have no place in the 21st Century,” he said.
This week, Salif whose foundation campaigns against anti-albino prejudice and crime, is performing a free concert in the town of Fana, Mali, in tribute to a five-year-old albino girl who was beheaded in May this year. He says that thanks to his status as a renowned musician he doesn’t face the same treatment that other people living with albinism do.
His fans in Kenya many of whom have seen him perform in the country several times since he first staged a show here in 1994, will get an opportunity to watch the great man on stage a final time when he headlines the upcoming edition of Koroga Festival.
“We are very privileged to have Salif Keita perform in Nairobi as he winds down his career,” said Michael Waithaka, the programmes controller of Capital FM, the organisers of the event that celebrates African music and culture. Waithaka, who was making the announcement while speaking a panel called intergenerational Dialogues at the Kenya National Theatre last week, said the event will also be special because Koroga returns to its former venue, the Uhuru Gardens Grounds in Langata.
Salif who turns 70 in August next year says after half-century of touring and recording he is taking a break to spend time with his children and grandchildren.
His latest album features a host of collaborations with some of Africa’s biggest music stars across the generations, from veterans like Alpha Blondy, Angelique Kidjo and Ladysmith Black Mambazo to contemporary Afropop singers like Nigeria’s Yemi Alade.
The 24th edition of the Koroga Festival that takes place at the Uhuru Gardens Grounds on November 24 and 25 will also feature performances by Nigerian rapper Skales and Kenyan band Mambo Tribe fronted by Wakake Otieno and Michel Ongaro.