MALIAN WITH A MISSION: Salif Keita has set up a foundation in his name to help people living with albinism and is changing the way the world views them.

SALIF KEITA, dubbed the Golden Voice of Africa and an Afropop maestro, will release his very last album at the end of October, in a final bow to an industry he has served faithfully for almost 50 years.
The last album will be his way of leaving a legacy through the songs and collaborations he has chosen for it.

It will feature artists he has very close relationships with, such as Yemi Alade, Grammy Award-winning Beninese singer Angélique Kidjo and young rapper Abdul Al Malik from Paris, among others.

Salif, who will turn 70 next year, spent some time during the interview reflecting on albinism, the time he spent in the music industry making music and touching lives, saying it has been as beneficial for him as it has been for his fans.

Independent Media caught up with the Malian in Swaziland, where he was performing at the MTN Bushfire Festival, sharing a platform with the likes of Grammy Award winners Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Nigerian Afropop singer and songwriter Yemi Alade in the Africa Tribute to eSwatini performance.

Reflecting on his career, he says: “There are two things I take with me from my career.

“Although it might not have been the initial intention, the last 49 years have allowed me to overcome my handicap as an albino.

"So much so that I almost forgot I have the handicap, and that has been a very important tool for me.”

He's had to overcome being looked down on and seen as a bad omen by Malians because of his genetic disorder, but his career helped him establish an internationally recognised foundation, The Salif Keita Global Foundation.

The foundation supports those subjected to the same societal exclusion and stigma attached to albinism.

“Through my foundation, I have been able to help other albinos. Not only in my home in Mali, but all over Africa and in the US as well.

“Through this foundation, I have also been able to provide assistance to many albinos all over the continent with basics that vary from sunscreen lotion, sunglasses and clothes to cover up from the sun.

“That is the powerful role that music has played in my life that no one can take away.

“Being able to reach people and places that otherwise may have been impossible is powerful.

“My ultimate goal now, a goal I am working towards with all my might, is raising funds to build a hospital that will specifically tend to the needs of albinos,” he says.

Salif says his musical gift has also helped unite the world, opening up channels of acceptance for people living with albinism and uniting Africa as a whole.

“That I've been invited to virtually every corner of the continent shows that, even though it might not have been the intention, those were the results of my music over the years.

“For example, not a lot of people go to Guinea-Bissau, but we were there two weeks ago to perform two shows.

“I’ve been to many, many African countries, showing that my music has had a significant impact right across the continent.”

The decision to take the “needed break”, as he puts it, will give him the opportunity to spend time with his family.

“I do think, with all that I've achieved in the industry, it's a good time to say goodbye to this chapter of my life.

“I've been touring non-stop for 50 years and maybe now it's time to enjoy my life with my family. My children and grandchildren will surely appreciate spending time with me.”

Of course, carrying the title of Golden Voice of Africa came with a lot of pressure to deliver. “With such a title, one had to continuously live up to the expectations. I use my voice the only way I know how - to sing.

“Most importantly, I have to keep making music from my heart and it is the real vehicle for the love I have in my heart.

“Then the voice becomes the carrier to express it,” he says.


The Sunday Independent