Salif Keita's career as a musician will always be colored by the fact that he is a member of the Royal Family. He can trace his ancestors all the way back to Soundjata Keita, who founded a kingdom Mali in 1240. It has never been easy for Salif Keita to explain the reason for his total break with tradition when he decides to become a musician. Perhaps it was something to do with the fact that he is an albino, an outsider from the word go.
He had originally planned to become a teacher but, because of difficulties finding a job, changed his mind. That a man from The Royal Family began as a musician in Mali in the 1960s, caused a storm of protest and Salif Keita was expelled from school. However, he formed a trio with his brothers and began to play on the streets and the nightclubs of Bamako, Mali's capitol. In 1970 he was invited to play in Rail Band, an orchestra supported in part by public money that played in the restaurant of the railway hotel in Bamako. In Rail Band he came into contact with Kante Manfila who had many of the same ideas as Keita concerning the blending of disparate styles. Mali has always been a melting pot for various musical styles, mainly because it stands as the last outpost of black Africa. Arabic, French, Spanish and local Malian traditions have influenced the music. After three years Keita and Manfila moved on to the (then) second most prolific group in Mali, Les Ambassadeurs, that had a more modern repertoire. The group's popularity soared and in 1978 Salif Keita was created "Minister for Music and Culture" by the president of neighboring Guinea. In gratitude, Salif Keita composed the song "Mandjou", which was an enormous success. Several of Les Ambassadeurs' historical recordings from the close of the 1970s are still available on CD. Keita and Manfila continued to develop their fusion music and create hypnotic sounds, one after the other. In the 1980s Keita dissolved Les Ambassadeurs and set out on his solo career. Since then his meaningful influence has cropped up in many areas - from western pop and rock to Pink Floyd, among others. Today, Salif Keita is one of world music's most central and influential artists; and each and every one of his albums is greeted with great expectations.
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