Best Of Salif Keita (2002)

A nice greatest-hits compilation from the Mansa of Mali, Salif Keita, born in 1949 in Djolibe, is sometimes called the golden voice of Africa and plays what is called Milian music. Born an albino ? a sign of bad luck ? Keita was ostracised by his family and community alike. His poor eyesight also contributed to his personal sense of alienation. His talent, spirit and drive permitted him acceptance among a public that might have initially shunned his music. Keita has since become one of the more renowned musicians from the African continent with a broad international audience.
In this wonderful music compilation is different from previous compilations (primarily Mansa of Mali- A Retrospective) as he has focused on more limited ranges of his career, this one attempts to cover the full expanse of work that he’s done post-Ambassadeurs: six songs from the seminal Soro album, two from Ko-Yan, four from Amen, seven from Folon, and three from the score to L’Enfant Lion.
It’s a nice overview of his work, focusing admittedly somewhat more on the Mango years than on other albums. Somewhat surprisingly, the work jumps back and forth through time, picking from early albums and late albums in a seemingly random order. The saving grace of this approach is that some of Keita’s more acoustic work isn’t terribly well represented here, so the listener isn’t shocked back and forth too much by the jolt from traditional to contemporary too often.
Keita’s signature mixture of the traditional and the urban contemporary blends perfectly with the current tide to encompass many listeners. Many international listeners will struggle with the lyrics and will desperately depend on the translation of the songs for their insightful meaning but despite this, it’s an entirely enjoyable album, showcasing Keita’s powerful vocals throughout.
For someone looking to make inroads into the Malian music scene, this wouldn’t be a bad place to start, as it covers a good deal of Keita’s work. For the ultimate combination, one would do well to pick up this compilation for the later work and a compilation of Rail Band and Ambassadors hits to cover the earlier sound. For the listener acquainted with Keita’s sound, it’s also a nice album in its breadth and length.

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