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Inspirational story of Salif Keita, the Golden Voice of Africa

Salif Keita, also known as the golden voice of Africa was born in Mali on August 25th, 1949. In spite of a noble lineage tracing back to Sundiata Keita, the 13th-century founder of the Malian empire, Salif Keita grew up in royal affluence but in a poor farming household.

It came as a shock to his family when it was realized that he was born with a skin condition caused by absence of melanin pigmentation called albinism. Salif faced some obstacles growing up as an albino – either through discrimination or the heat from the sun. Although he was protected by his family from being in the sun, this was not the same when he started school. He was bullied by other students for being an albino and different from every other person. In no distance time, he learned how to defend himself from bullies.

Keita is known for blending African rhythms such as Mande folks music with African-American jazz, rhythm and blues, etc to pioneer the Afropop dance-music genre.

In early life, Salif wanted to be a teacher but he was advised against going into the teaching profession because they thought children would be scared of him. There was also concern about his eyesight as well. In time, he developed a deep passion for music.

However, his quest of becoming a musician did not go down well with his family. As per tradition, singing was reserved for the Jalis or griots and Salif should not play music due to his royal lineage. It was considered a violation of his noble status as a Keita. This caused a further rift and drift from his family.

This did not stop the young Keita from pursuing his passion for music. The rift with his family brought about his move from Djoliba. At the age of 18, he found his way into the city of Bamako where he started playing his music at nightclubs and on the street. In time, he joined a state-sponsored group called the Rail Band. After a few years with
the band, Salif moved to Cote d’Ivoire to join another group called Les Ambassadeurs du Motel.

Towards the end of the 1970s, Keita’s fame was spread far and wide in both Cote d’Ivoire and Mali. His fame had immensely increased his fan base. In these years, he created a niche for himself in the music industry by the melodious use of guitar, saxophone and organ. That went on to become his signature style of music. In recognition of his ingenious singing, he was honored with the National Order award from the president of Guinea, Sekou Toure in 1977. Keita reciprocated by composing a praise song for Toure titles “Mandjou,”.

As time went on, Keita moved to Paris in 1984 in a bid to spread his tentacles and reach a larger audience. Of course, he achieved it. In no distant time, he had become famous in Africa and had achieved a larger audience in Europe and America. In 1987, he came forward with a debut album titled, Soro and that became a hit. In 1988, Keita was honored to be among the musicians that performed at the birthday celebration of Nelson Mandela in London where there was strong agitation for his release from prison. His songs got numerous awards within and outside the shores of Africa including several Grammy Awards nominations. He went on to produce many albums which received a lot of accolades around the world.

Due to his experience of bully and discrimination associated with albinism, he started a foundation to raise awareness of struggles faced by albinos. In 2009, he released an album, La Difference, which is dedicated to the struggles of Albinos. He announced his retirement from music in 2018 and has since become active in politics and a member of the transitional panel in Mali. Salif is currently active in politics and he is one of the voices pushing to end foreign influences in Africa especially in his home country – Mali.

It is no doubt that Salif Kaita is one of the best musical talents produced in the soil of Africa and has done remarkably well in bringing his indigenous music to the world. He is indeed, the Golden Voice of Africa.

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