Selected by Dan Grunebaum
Photo courtesy of Blue Note Tokyo
"Keita' voice is remarkable in itself. Its high, bracing purity is
heightened by a unique phrasing that combines full-tilt warrior strength, the sensual lilt
of the Brazilian samba and Islamic prayer calls." Rolling Stone
The Blue Note Tokyo continues its examination of African pop when Malian singer Salif
Keita pulls into town for a week-long residency. It comes as no coincidence that Keita is
a recent recruit to Blue Note's record label, having released his most recent album Papa
on Blue Note in 1999.
Born into the royal family of Mali, a dynasty that reaches back to the 12th century, Keita
ditched it all to pursue his dream of a career in music. Disowned by his father, he moved
to the Malian capital of Bamoko in 1967 and began singing with his brother in nightclubs.
His near-operatic vocal range and mesmerizing presence soon caught the attention of the
Rail Band, a popular government-sponsored group that also featured renowned Malian guitar
player Kante Manfila. After joining the band, they relocated to the more happening city of
Abidjian, capital of The Ivory Coast, renaming themselves Les Ambassadeurs Internationaux.
The band gained recognition for their dynamic blend of Cuban, Zairean and Malian
influences, and in 1977 Keita was awarded the prestigious National Order of Guinea for his
Following up on suggestions that he launch a solo career, Keita relocated to Paris in
1984, settling in with the 15,000-strong Malian expat community. Soro, Keita's
debut solo album, appeared in 1987 to wide acclaim. To this day, Keita remains a leading
exponent of Afropop, with a number of albums out on Mango, Polygram, Melodie and Blue
According to one fan, Keita has been known to pull people up on stage to dance during his
shows, which should have the often-staid Blue Note rocking with abandon.
Salif Keita plays the
Blue Note Tokyo on 8/7-12. See listings