Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Interview with Salif Keita

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Salif Keita is known as the Golden Voice of Africa. He's become one of the most popular African musicians of all time due to his breathtaking voice, and his trail-blazing courage. That courage is on full display on his new album, La Différence. I had the honor of speaking to Salif about his new album, his decision to become a musician, and his upcoming N. American tour:

Marc Gabriel Amigone: You're about to embark on a N. American tour. Are there any dates in particular to which you're especially looking forward?


Salif Keita: I’m very happy to return to America and to see my American fans again.

MGA: How has the reception to African popular music changed in your eyes from the beginning of your career until now?


Salif Keita: Yes of course, it has really evolved and changed a lot because there are more and more collaborations between musicians, so it has become on a much more global scale.

MGA: As a pioneer of the World music genre, have you struggled at all in your career with not being able to escape the label of "World Music Artist?"


Salif Keita: Well in fact it’s a label the music industry has created. It’s not World Music, it’s African music. But the positive part is that it has helped African music to be known all over the world.

MGA: Right, personally I very much dislike the term “World Music” because it suggests two worlds from which music comes when in reality all music comes from THE world. Fela Kuti always hated the term World Music because it suggests its second class music.

Salif Keita: Voila, that’s it.

MGA: You make a powerful statement about Albinism on this album as well as about several other issues. Why did you feel that now is the time to make that statement?


Salif Keita: I feel that now is the time to stop atrocities and human sacrifices that are committed against albinos all over Africa. All over Africa, in Burundi, Tanzania, many regions of Africa. Albino people are killed, and sacrificed, and now is the time to stop, so that’s the reason why the message is so strong.

MGA: For those who are not familiar, could you please describe the dangers and obstacles Albinos face in African societies?


Salif Keita: Apart from human sacrifices, they are murdered, their body parts are sold on the black market. It’s really terrible.

MGA: On La Différence, you speak out most prominently about the discrimination of Albinos. To which other issues do you feel your message of tolerance could also be applied?

Salif Keita: The other concerns and issues that are occurring in Africa right now are desertification and degradation of nature. For instance, a lot of people earn their living by logging to the point where no forests are left on the continent. Pollution is also a big issue. Rivers are drying up. All these environmental issues are what I’d like to talk about.

MGA: Due to your royal lineage, it went against societal practices for you to become a musician. If you were not an albino and ostracized by your family as a result, do you think you would’ve gone on to become a musician?

Salif Keita: [If I wasn’t an albino] I would’ve done something totally different.

MGA: That was my thought exactly, since you were already outcast, it affected your decision.

Salif Keita: For me it was a way to go against my lineage. It actually helped other people, noble people, to stand up and take up music as well. It could’ve been a double-exclusion, but I still did it.

MGA: You use your platform as a musician and celebrity to affect change both in the statements you make as an artist as well as through your foundation. Do you feel that popular African musicians do enough to use their money and status to affect change in their home countries?


Salif Keita: Once you are known and you have an audience, it becomes your duty to really speak out and be a spokesperson for other people who don’t have that opportunity. So yes it is a duty.

MGA: You incorporate a wide variety of instruments on La Différence from a variety of regions and cultures. For instance, on Gaffou, you feature the oud alongside the n'goni and kora and other strings. Could you describe why you chose those instruments and what they have in common?


Salif Keita: They can complete each other. They compliment each other very well.

MGA: What would you say is the cultural significance of the oud and kora complimenting each other so well.

Salif Keita: Well, African music and middle-eastern music sound very well together. It’s good to be able use the two sounds together.

MGA: Could you describe the emotion behind the last song on your album, Papa?

Salif Keita: It’s a very emotional song since it talks about my father, who at first was not able to understand me, but then went on to become my confidant and my friend.

MGA: Could you elaborate on that a bit? How would you describe your relationship with you father?

Salif Keita: At first, since he had no information about what albinism is, he was not able to grasp, to understand what I am, but after that we became best friends. He became my best friend.