Proud son of his roots

Gugu Sibiya

Gugu Sibiya

Artists come and go but those that have staying power are those who are committed to their craft as well as being intent on entertaining their audiences as Mali's spellbinding Salif Keita has so proudly done.

No stranger to local audiences, he has become a symbol of cultural preservation. A descendant of the Sahel peasants, born and bred in Djoliba village, Niger's first name, in Mali, there was no way that Keita would escape mastering the moffou, a handcrafted flute that produces a shrill, nasal sound initially aimed at scaring crop-destroying birds.

Obviously retracing his steps to his roots, Keita's latest offering is entitled Moffou. It is also the name of his brand-new club in Bamako, Mali. Its major objective is to promote music from West Africa. According to the prolific singer, the choice of the name was a genuine desire to return to the roots, to the dark continent and Mali, the land of the Bambara, Malinké and Soninké peoples, with their separate cultures and ways of life, their rituals and traditions.

Known as the African Caruso, his 1997 French song release Sosic saw him accused of straying far from his origins, while his 1999 Papa, recorded in New York and produced by funk-rock guitarist Vernon Reid, didn't skimp electronics and urban rhythms but, like his 1995 CD Folon, was moulded in the Mandingo tradition.

Moffou, an entirely acoustic CD, is a work that's 100percent African in inspiration. Here, with soul and pop influences temporarily shelved, Keita's celestial voice, possessed with exceptional clarity and vigour, delivers one of his freshest, dizziest and most authentic recordings.

Keita has overcome a lot of adversity as an albino, in a society trapped in native beliefs and superstitions. It's no wonder he grew up a loner, taking delight in books and developing a passion for the song of the griots, the wandering poets who went between townships telling royal sagas, relaying family odysseys and handing down the oral tradition from generation to generation.