Salif Keita (& les Ambassadeurs)

Salif Keita started his career as a professional singer in 1970, when he became a singer of one of the two big bands in Mali, the Rail Band. The Rail Band, that played in the restaurant of the railway station of Bamako, had already started using Malian musical traditions in addition to Latin classics. In 1973, Salif changed to another big band, les Ambassadeurs du Motel de Bamako, which was considered making more modern music. In 1978, the group changed its name to Ambassadeurs Internationaux when key members moved to Abidjan, in order to look for more possibilities for recording and for reaching new (international) audiences.

In 1984, Salif moved to France and started a solo career and his first solo album, the outstanding « Soro » created a buzz among music fans. The album is seen as innovating because of the, for African music of that decade, particularly high production standards (the album has been produced by François Bréant), and because of the unique mix of beautifully sung African melodies and modern western (electronic) instrumentation. Following albums share the same modernity but lack more and more the African feel.
After the turn of the millennium, Salif went back to Bamako where he recorded a semi-acoustic album « Moffou », which was again a benchmark. By then, Keita had created a cultural centre with a club, and added to this a recording studio, all baptised Moffou, in order to promote the talent of young artists. Later albums such as « M’bemba » and « La différence » share the same mix between melodic compositions, the use of predominantly acoustic instruments and Salif's soaring voice.

If it was for tradition, we wouldn't have heard this voice at all. Being born into a noble family, said to be a direct descendant from the Keita dynasty (ruling the Mali empire from the 12th till the early 17th century), Salif had no right to sing in public. In addition, being an albino, which is seen as a sign of bad luck in malinké culture, he was often alone, and discriminated and so he sought relieve in playing on his guitar. From his early successes, such as « Mandjou » (1978), for which Guinean president Sekou Touré granted him a degree of National Order of Guinea, to collaborations with Wayne Shorter, Joe Zawinul, Carlos Santana and others, we can only be thankful for it that this tradition has not been respected.

Salif Keita
   Salif Keita   

Musicians on the LP Mandjou (1978):
Kanté Manfila chef d'orchestre, solo guitar
Cissoko Moussa saxophone (alto-tenor)
Traoré Kabine (Tagus) trumpet
Salif Keita vocals
Ousmane Dia vocals
Sambou Diakité vocals
Nouhoun Keita drums
Ousmane Kouyaté guitar
Sekou Diabaté bass
Cheikh Smith orgue

Born: 25 August, 1949, in Djoliba (40km South of Bamako, on the Niger River)
Style: Mandingo music, both traditional and modernised

Title Year Label Remarks
Un autre blanc 2018  Salif Keita/ Naïve (a Believe SAS Division) Release date 26 October
Talé 2012  Emarcy / Universal Music
La différence 2009  Emarcy / Universal Music Benefits of the album are for the SOS Albinos foundation
20th Century Masters 2007  Universal Music The Millennium Collection
M’Bemba 2005  Emarcy / Universal Music
Remixes from Moffou 2004  Universal Music France
The Best of the Early Years 2002  Wrasse Records WRASS 083 Compilation, including songs with the Rail Band
Moffou 2002  Universal Music France 016 906-2
Golden Voice : The Best of Salif Keita 2001  Wrasse Records WRASS 059 2CD Compilation
Papa 1999  Metro Blue/ Capitol Records 499070-2
Sosie 1997  MS Verdenshjørnet DKMS 9600 French "chansons"
Folon 1995  Mango CDIM 1108
69-80 1994 Sonodisc CD 74646 Sampler of 1969-80 recordings
The Mansa of Mali...A Retrospective 1994 Mango 20849-2 Sampler of 1987-93 recordings plus 1978 Mandjou
L'Enfant Lion 1993 Island O.S.T. of l'Enfant Lion, a film made by Patrick Grandperret
Amen 1991 Mango 261694
Ko-Yan 1989 Island 259850
Soro 1987 Island / F: Pathé Marconi EMI (LP) Also Sterns STCD 1020 (UK) / Mango CCD 9808
Albums with les Ambassadeurs internationaux:
Rebirth 2015  World Village CD (4-track EP)
Tounkan / Mana Mani 2010  Universal Music/Emarcy 2CD compilation
Mandjou / Seydou Bathily 2010  Universal Music/Emarcy 2CD compilation
Classics Titles 2006  Cantos Compilation CD
Tounkan 1984 Celluloid CEL 6717 LP
Primpin 1983 Celluloid CEL 6640 LP
Djougouya 1982 AS Records AS 008 LP, also on Celluloid CEL 6635
Mandjou 1978 Badmos BLP 5040 Also on Celluloid CEL 6721 (1984)
Albums with les Ambassadeurs du Motel:
Vol. 2: Les Ambassadeurs Du Motel De Bamako 1977 Sonafric SAF 50031 LP
Vol. 1: Les Ambassadeurs Du Motel De Bamako 1977 Sonafric SAF 50030 LP
Les Ambassadeurs Du Motel 1976 Sonafric SAF 50.014 LP
Albums with Manfila Kanté:
Salif Keïta & Kanté Manfila -
The Lost Album
2005 Cantos Compilation, with 3 unreleased tracks composed
by Kemo Kouyaté
Dans l'authenticité, Vol.2 1979 Badmos BLP 5032 LP
Dans l'authenticité, Vol.1 1979 Badmos BLP 5031 LP
For the Rail Band discography, see our Rail Band page (link)

Page added February 1998