Born ‘cursed’ and ostracized, Salif Keita is now regarded as the Golden Voice of Africa

Nii Ntreh Jan 29, 2020 at 11:00am

January 29, 2020 at 11:00 am | Art Attack, Culture

Nii Ntreh

Nii Ntreh | Associate Editor

January 29, 2020 at 11:00 am | Art Attack, Culture

In the Mandinke culture where he was raised, Salif Keita's albinism is a curse. Photo Credit: Guineesminenature.com

These days, Salif Keita has transcended the negative perception associated with his albinism although he is the first to tell you that there are tens of thousands across the continent who have not and may never.

Keita is a record-making millionaire, award-winning soulful Afropop singer with global repute. That kind of privilege places you in a small bracket but not the one that squeezes you as albinos on the continent.

Centuries-old stigmatization and persecution of albinos have attracted international condemnation and preventive actions.

Where they are not hunted as magical beings capable of changing the fortunes of their killers, albinos are ostracized and have their world limited by the cruelty of others.

What foments the inhumanity, in spite of the positive results of education, seems to be the detachment from people living with albinism (PWA) that larger society has potently mustered.

It is the “harmless” jokes, the insinuations and other loose talk.

Keita himself was born into Mandinka culture which sees albinism as a curse or bad luck. His family was pressured to ostracize their own in the same vein as the community.

In a 2018 interview with Reuters, Keita recalled his schooling days: “I was the sole albino. I knew immediately that I was different from the other children.”

Keita’s larger family are considered aristocratic since they trace their ancestry from the 13th century Mali emperor Sundiata Keita. But even that did not save young Salif from being left out.

He was actually dissuaded from pursuing his passion for music as his father disowned him. He was albatross around the family’s neck, someone they could do without.

Having picked up on the negative signal that was sent his way all his life, Keita left his birthplace of Djoliba to Bamako aged 18.

In the Malian capital, he joined the government-funded music band, Super Rail Band de Bamako. At the beginning of the 1970s, he became the lead singer for the group that played Afro-Latin sounds.

It was the group Les Ambassadeurs, which Keita joined in 1973, that offered him the platform for international recognition. The group would later flee Mali and settled Ivory Coast due to political unrest.

In 1984, Keita moved to Paris and he has not looked back since.

His music has been described as Afropop but Keita has offered everything from jazz to salsa.

Traditional African instruments such as the djembe, kora and balafon are quite prevalent in his sounds. He has also been able to sing to non-traditional instrumentalization.

He has over 15 albums over a solo career that has spanned some 35 years. Keita counts Un Autre Blanc (Another White), as his swansong.

Un Autre Blanc is also an activist’s production Keita put together to educate people on the plight of people living with albinism. This one was dear to his heart.

“Albinos have problems integrating into society, which is something we wanted to expose. We are saying that beauty lies in difference. We must be proud of what we are,” he told Reuters.

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