Salif Keita , (born Aug. 25, 1949, Djoliba, Mali), Malian singer-songwriter known for blending elements of a wide range of local African—especially Mande—music traditions with jazz, rhythm and blues, and other international popular-music styles to pioneer the Afropop dance-music genre.
In spite of a noble lineage tracing back to Sundiata Keita, the 13th-century founder of the Malian empire, Salif Keita grew up as an outsider in several important respects. First, he was raised not in an environment of royal affluence but in a poor farming household. Second, owing to his albinism—a condition traditionally viewed as a harbinger of misfortune—he found himself a pariah, rejected by both his family and his community. His choice to pursue music, moreover, violated the occupational prohibitions of his noble status and, consequently, distanced him even farther from his family.
When he was 18 years old, Keita moved to Mali’s capital, Bamako, and began performing as a singer in nightclubs. After about two years, he joined the popular government-sponsored group Rail Band, notable for its electrified mixture of traditional Mande music and Afro-Caribbean popular styles. In the early 1970s Keita and Rail Band guitarist Kanté Manfila left for Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, to join Les Ambassadeurs du Motel (later Les Ambassadeurs Internationales), a rival group that was similarly recognized for its fusion of local African traditions with internationally appealing popular genres. By the late ’70s Keita’s singing and innovative work with Les Ambassadeurs resonated strongly and positively beyond the boundaries of Côte d’Ivoire and Mali; for his ever-broadening fan base, he was the “golden voice of Africa.” Indeed, in 1977 Guinean president Sékou Touré conferred on him the National Order of Guinea, a prestigious honour. Keita reciprocated by composing “Mandjou,” a praise song for Touré and the people of Mali. The song was accompanied melodically by guitars, organ, and saxophone—a combination that had by that time become Keita’s