Wallace Mawire , Harare Malian superstar Salif Keita, popularly known as the Mansa of Mali is set to perform for the first time in Zimbabwe at a show to be held in Harare at the Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA) which began here today and ends on Sunday May 2, 2010.
According to his biography, Salif Keïta was born on August 25, 1949 and is an internationally recognized afro-pop singer-songwriter from Mali. He is unique not only because of his reputation as the Golden Voice of Africa, but because he has albinism and is a direct descendant of the founder of the Mali Empire, Sundiata Keita. This royal heritage meant that under the Malian caste system, he should never have become a singer, which was deemed to be a griot’s role.
Keita was born in the city of Djoliba. He was cast out by his family and ostracized by the community because of his albinism, a sign of bad luck in Mandinka culture. He left Djoliba for Bamako in 1967, 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, Côte d’Ivoire 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 moved to Paris in 1984 to reach a larger audience. His music combines traditional West African music styles with influences from both Europe and the Americas, while maintaining an overall Islamic style. 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, but his work was sometimes criticised for the gloss of its production and for the occasional haphazard quality. However, 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 latest album, La Différence, was produced around the year 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. In one of the album’s tracks, the singer calls others to understand that “difference” does not mean “bad” and to show love and compassion towards albinos like everyone else:”I am black/ my skin is white/ so I am white and my blood is black [albino]/… I love that because it is a difference that’s beautiful..”, “some of us are beautiful some are not/some are black some are white/all that difference was on purpose.. for us to complete each other/let everyone gets his love and dignity/the world will be beautiful.”
La Différence is unique in that for the first time Keita has clearly and boldly combined different melodic influences to produce a highly original musical feel, with a wide range of appeal. The album was recorded between Bamako, Beirut, Paris, and Los Angeles. This unique musical feel is reinforced by soulful pitches in the track “Samigna” emanating from the trumpet of the Libanese great jazzman, Ibrahim Maaluf.
La Difference won Keita one of the biggest musical awards of his career: the Best World Music 2010 at the Victoires de la musique.
Manuel Bagorro, HIFA Founder and Artistic Director confirmed to journalists in Harare that Keita will be one of the most outstanding performers at this year’s festival.
His tour and performance in Zimbabwe is being facilitated by Culturesfrance and the Embassy of France in Zimbabwe in association with Aon Zimbabwe.
Tafadzwa Simba, HIFA Media Consultant said that Keita is expected to arrive in Zimbabwe on Saturday.Simba also added that Keita will perform at HIFA’s Telecel Main Stage on Sunday evening.
According to Maria Wilson, HIFA Executive Director the festival is the largest international arts festival in sub-saharan Africa.