African Music and Social Rebellion

Salif Keita's Acoustical Manifesto

Salif Keita
Salif Keita performs at the 2000 Montreux Jazz Festival (Photo: AFP).

Because he was born different [he is an albino], Salif Keita “won’t kneel to anybody.” His luminous voice, which he pushes to the breaking point, holds the rumbling of quiet revolt, like distant thunder. He denounces racial discrimination, corruption, indifference. With Moffou, his most recent CD (Universal Jazz)—the title is from the name of a little flute used from time immemorial by farmers in the Sahel to protect their crops from the birds—he has produced the magnificent, all-acoustic album we’d been hoping for since Mandjou.

“No politics this time,” says Keita of the new CD. “I like each of my albums to have a different feel.” Because he’s singing love songs, he doesn’t need to vociferate or complain. His voice, deeper and from the gut, returns in this CD to a peaceable realm, to the great meditative music of the Mandingo empire. Keita doesn’t miss the chance, however, to get in a few shots at his country’s decision-makers (“Never hit your neighbor because you the power”).

He pays homage to woman—brave, tireless, “at the origin of everything.” Perfect happiness isn’t coming soon, he knows that. He’s not hypothetical. “It begins here and now. Down with violence, egotism, and despair. No more pessimism! Africa is also the joy of living, beauty, elegance, grace, sun, nature. Let’s be happy to be sons of Africa, and let’s fight to build our ideal world,” Salif Keita says.

At 52, it seems as though the albino griot is ready indeed to return to Djoliba, his home village on the banks of the Niger.