This review was originally posted on the first Toorak Times web site where publications ceased on that site in March 2017. The old site will be permanently closed in 2020 and these reviews are being re-published in order to preserve them on the current Toorak Times/Tagg site.
Cream Of The Crate Reviews 1 to 50 were vinyl album reviews. The following fifty reviews (51 - 100) were originally marked as CD Reviews 1 - 50 and this numbering has been kept to keep consistency with the published CD reviews.
This is number forty seven in the series of retro-reviews of Cd albums in my collection.
The series is called, “Cream of The Crate (CD’s)”, and they represent CD albums that I believe are of significant musical value, either because of their rarity, because they represent the best of a style or styles of music or because there is something unique about the group or the music.
Salif Keita may not be a name on every-bodies tongue, yet most of his albums are winners, and this album, Amen, is no different.
It was released on the Mango label in 1991 and its code is CIDM 1073, 848 793-2.
It has eight tracks and showcases this mans amazing talent.
Like many other Cd’s, it does have a booklet of a sort, and while it is not as “trashy” as some, it still leaves room for improvement.
The cover of the booklet forms the cover for the Cd. It has eight double sided pages in high gloss, and contains a small number of quality pictures of Keita, along with the credits for the album, and the lyrics listed in his native language, French and English.
The real shame is that not only have they been printed in small print in order to fit three language versions of each track into the booklet, but have also been printed on brightly coloured backgrounds. So when you come to the colours of purple, deep blue, deep red etc, it is almost impossible to read!
I rate the booklet at 7/10.
What ever you might read about Salif Kerita, the one consistent comment is, that he is called the “Golden Voice of Africa”!
He was born in 1949 in Djoliba, a small and somewhat desolate town in Mali and is identified as a direct descendent of Sundiata Keita, the Mandinka warrior king who founded the Malian empire in the 13th century.
He was born an albino which is actually considered as a sign of bad luck in that part of the world.
As a result, and even though he has a direct lineage to the founder of the Malian Empire, Salif was shunned and ostracized by his family and community alike. As a result of his genetic condition he his has poor eyesight and this has contributed to his personal sense of alienation.
At the age of 18 he moved to the capitol of Mali, Bamako, where along with a brother he began to play in small clubs. He had a very unique and attention grabbing voice.
As a result it wasn’t too long before he scored what was considered at the time, the choicest of gigs, a place in the 16 man government sponsored Rail Band. This was the band that was featured at Bamako railway station’s Buffet Hotel de la Gare.
In 1973 he left the Rail Band along with Kante Manfila (guitarist, composer, and leader of the band) to join Les Ambassadeurs.
His time with that band lasted for over ten years and in that time left an indelible mark on modern music from Mali.
“Les Ambassadeurs’ music was Manding-influenced, latin-tinged, with with lightness and swing, and despite the modern instruments you can clearly hear the strains of the original Manding music.
By the late 1970s Keita became determined to crack the international market and the band made the move to Paris and changed their name to Les Ambassadeurs Internationaux.
With Keita’s outstanding voice and presence balanced by Manfila’s cracker-jack guitar work and the mournful sax solos all tied together by the overall Islamic sound, Les Ambassadeurs Internationaux became one of the most popular transplanted African bands in Paris.
Problems soon cropped up between Keita and Manfila and soon Les Ambassadeurs Internationaux were no more.
Salif Keita still tours around the world regularly and he is definitely not to be missed.
in 1977 Keita received a National Order award from the president of Guinea, Sékou Touré.
However heavy political unrest in the 70’s (something Mali still suffers from today), saw Keita being forced to relocate overseas and by 1984 he was living and working in Paris alongside such music luminaries as Mory Kante, Toure Kunda, Tabu Ley Rochereau, Ray Lema, Papa Wemba, and Manu Dibango.
It was in Paris that he began to combine traditional West African music styles with influences from both Europe and the Americas and never looked back, and, never stopped experimenting.
Constantly in demand, his concert circuit and his playing is in as greater demand as ever, and he is also able to call on the best musicians to play alongside him.
To this date he has recorded 18 albums and has bought out two compilations.
This album, Amen, is his fourth album and in it, Keita has made every effort to reach out to western audiences while still remaining true to himself.
The album was produced by Joe Zawinul, himself an extremely accomplished sax player and who is no slouch on keyboards. Zawinul, who cut his teeth playing with the great Cannonball Adderley, went on to be one of the founding members of Weather Report.
Zawinul also contributes keyboards on the album, which also features Carlos Santana on guitar. The full line up of musicians, which is literally a cast of “thousands”, includes:
- Backing Vocals [Singers] – Assitan Dembele, Assitan Keita*, Djanka Diabate, Djene Doumbouya, Nayanka Bell
- Bass [Six String Custom Model James Trussart] – Etienne M’Bappe
- Drums – Paco Sery
- Guitar – Carlos Santana, Jeff Baillard, Kante Manfila
- Horns – Gary Bias, Raymond Brown, Reggie Young
- Keyboards, Other [Music Coordinator] – Cheik Tidiane Seck
- Keyboards, Synthesizer [Korg Pepe] – Joe Zawinul
- Percussion – Bill Summers, Souleymanne Doumbia
- Rhythm Guitar – Mamadou Doumbia
- Tenor Saxophone, Soprano Saxophone – Wayne Shorter
- Trumpet – Ron Mesa (tracks: 8)
- Xylophone [Balafon] – Keletigui Diabate
- Vocals [Uncredited] –Salif Keita
* No relation to Salif Keita
- 1. Yele n Na
- 2. Waraya
- 3. Tono
- 4. Kuma
- 5. Nyanafin
- 6. Karifa
- 7. N B’I Fe
- 8. Lony
We commence with Track No.1 – Yele n Na.
A very bright and happy track, it kicks off with some great brass and if I’m not mistaken, a quick guitar lick from Santana.
The track grooves along as Salif sings about a “woman” he loves, but I suspect there is more to it than that.
He is the father of Para-Olympian athlete Nantenin Keita, and reading between the lines I believe the song could be dedicated to her.
Smile for me, darling
Smile for me
What can a man do for one he adores
That I have not done for you
When you were a little girl
I did everything for you
Go discover the world darling
and travel around
Yele n Na
Track No.2 – Waraya.
This track kicks off with some very nice percussion and like track #1, simply slots into an instant groove, with that “Golden” voice simply sliding in as if carried on a river of quicksilver.
This is a wonderful track with some delightful little cameo music lines flowing in and out from guitars, keyboards and percussion.
The song is a celebration of the independence and greatness of Mali, as Salif Keita perceived it at the time.
He sings of the richness of its dairy and meat producing – the things so important to its people, and how it all once was before it was all handed over to the ‘white man’.
However, now with Independence, it is “theirs” once again.
But as we begin to think it is just about Mali, he makes it clear that he is championing freedom and independence for all Africa, when he sings, “The sun of democracy is here, let’s welcome it with courage. it is only a beginning, it must grow. For men and women, let us all be the bulwarks. You, the black people, my brothers You Africans. If you can come, and if you can’t, stay where you are. From Mali. From the Ivory Coast. From Burkinafaso, if you can, FIGHT for democracy, and if you can’t – stay where you are.”
As the lyrics and the delivery of those lyrics become more powerful, so it is driven by and drives synergistically, the music into a crescendo of emotion, each driving the other!.
Track No.7 is N B’I Fe (I love you).
This is the outstanding track on the album. Again it’s a fusion of musical cultures with the end result being a beautiful and most unusually arranged “love song”.
It commences with what would be called, a “familiar” Afro-style beat, but suddenly a very much french style of playing along with french lyrics pop out.
Then, as we begin to suspect we have a strange form of a french love song, producer Zaniwul, spins us out with the introduction of some very complex African style rhythms and it is obvious to us as listeners, that we have been exposed to a very cleverly composed and arranged piece of music.
The guitar playing, which I suspect is by Kante Manifila, is very reminiscent of the early “club-style’ of playing as played by Nigerian Victor Uwaifo (Known as the “Guitar Boy”.
What Zaniwul has achieved, is a piece of music that is complex and could so easily been over produced, but it isn’t.
He allows Salif Keita to dominate the sound while allowing all the instrumentation to shine through. Toward the end that classic “Santana Guitar Sound” reminds us, that this is very much a blending of not just culture, but styles.
This is, putting it simply, a unique and superb track.
N B’I Fe
The final track placed before you is in fact, the final track on the album, track No. 8 – Lony, or, “knowledge“.
Allowing synthesised keyboards to play a dominant part in the music exclamations, along with a bloody gut pumping ‘kick drum’, results in a really nice, gently and smooth piece of music, showcasing that magical voice of Salif Keita.
The complex underpinning rhythms set up by both the percussion and the guitars, accent Keita’s voice as it soars above and across them, as a great bird might be soaring across the complex landscape of Mali.
There are beautiful choral vocals, and I use that word particularly, as it is far more than just a set of backing vocals, listen and you’ll understand.
This is indeed a beautiful and emotional journey as we sit back, torn between wanting to dance while at the same time, wanting to be thrilled and enticed by a myriad of cleverly crafted musical surprises throughout the track.
The lyrics are a work of art in their own right. Here is part of this song.
As I sat alone with my thoughts
A bird spoke to me
Wondering what could absorb me so entirely
Puts the sky on your head
The earth on your feet
Use your blessings as a walking stick
And go with your faith
The world is what it is
It benefits those that know
Such is the law
Ah my lord and master
Knowledge is such an immeasurable gift!
What else is there to be said?
Downbeat in February 1992 said of the album Amen, “4 Stars – Very Good“.
Adam Greenberg wrote in Allmusic: “Anyone looking to break into Afro-pop should pick this album up, as it combines the work of a true vocal master with the work of a number of musicians (Western and African) of the highest caliber to create a seamless work.”
It certainly is the very best album to introduce someone to Salif Keita.
The music is smooth, very danceable and certainly joyous.
Is it everyone’s “cup of tea”? I doubt it. There will be people who will find no joy, and no kinship with this music. However, for others it will be, if it already hasn’t become, an integral part of their love of fine music.
It IS music that crosses borders and is in many ways, timeless.
The CD is available on Ebay for between $18.00 and $35.00.
One advantage of retro-reviewing more recent albums (as opposed to those produced before 1980) is, that there are usually a reasonable number of live performances available on Youtube. Here are 4 videos of Salif Keita live.
The first is a track from the “Amen” album, and the remaining three showcase his remarkable style.
Previous Cream of The Crate Albums:
To view/listen the first 50 vinyl album reviews just click the image below –
Click to open the following CD reviews:
#21. 2nu – Ponderous