Salif Keita was born on August 25, 1949 in Djoliba, Mali. Salif Keita is a direct descendant of Sunjata Keita, who founded the Malian Empire in 1240, however, because he was born with albinism, a sign of extreme bad luck in Mandinka culture, he was ostracized by his family and left home as a teenager. He soon joined up with the Super Rail Band de Bamako, a government-sponsored Afro-pop orchestra, and garnered national acclaim. His choice to become a musician was taboo, as members of the royal caste are forbidden from becoming musicians, a profession generally reserved for the lower jeli (griot) caste.
Salif Keita’s first group was called the Super Rail Band. After performing in the Super Rail Band for six years, Salif Keita left to join the rival band, Les Ambassadeurs, with whom he fled Mali in the mid-1970s to escape political unrest. They changed their name to Les AmbassadeursInternationaux while living in Cote d'Ivoire, and proceeded to gain international recognition.
Keita left the group in 1984 and moved to Paris to embark on a successful solo career. In 1991, Salif Keita became the first African band leader to be nominated for a Grammy award with the album Amen which featured Carlos Santana on several tracks and was produced by late Joe Zawinul.
Salif Keita moved home to Mali in 2001 and has subsequently released three albums, including 2010s critically acclaimed La Difference, an album that explores the issues faced by people with albinism and other potential societal outcasts. Keita also started a foundation, the Salif Keita Global Foundation, which advocates for the rights (and basic safety) of Albinos, particularly in Africa, where they are often targets for human sacrifice. The organization is headed by his wife, Malian American Coumba Makalou.
In 2012, Salif Keita released the critically acclaimed album Tale. Simple guitar and voice tapes from Salif lay the foundations for the album's melodies and harmonies. Rhythmical motifs are woven in and out by local musicians. Salif was joined in the studio by special guests Manu Dibango and his awesome sax-chorus, and Bobby McFerrin, who improvised a soft melody on the simbi over Salif's beat-boxing. The Grammy Award-winning artist, Esperanza Spalding, featured on the song "Cherie s'en va" - a dedication to young girls who leave home to marry. And British prodigy Roots Manuva's flow is captured on "C'est bon,c'est bon", a Lee Perry-type production filled with warp-speed, rock-steady infra-bass, and soulful backing vocals.
In 2019, Salif Keita released his last album titled “Un Autre Blanc” (Another White) which included several collaborations with legendary African and international artists as special guests such as Angelique Kidjo, Alpha Blondy, Yemi Alade, and more. He launched the album with a free concert in a small village in Mali, where a 5-year-old child with albinism was murdered for her organs in a ritual crime the same year. The event was attended by more than 100,000 people including advocates and celebrities from across the world.
Learn more about the Salif Keita Global Foundation INC:
Recommended Salif Keita Starter CDs:
Amen – 1991 Salif Keita Became First African Band Leader to be nominated for best world album at Grammys
The Best of Salif Keita - 2002
Moffou- 2002 Grammy-nominated
M’Bemba- 2005 Grammy-nominated
La Difference – 2009 Winner "Victoires de la Musique"
Un Autre Blanc- 2019