Salif Keita gave up a lot to pursue his dreams of a career in music. Born to royal lineage, with ancestral roots going back to Soundjata Keita, the founder of the Malian Empire in 1240, Keita was disowned by his father after announcing his plans to play music. Keita's dreams, however, were too strong to be shattered. Moving to the capitol city of Bamako in 1967, he was soon playing in nightclubs with one of his brothers. Within two years, he was invited to join the Rail Band. A popular, government-sponsored group that played regularly at the Buffet Hotel De La Gare, the Rail Band featured influential Malian guitar player Kante Manfila. Keita's soulful singing soon brought the band to a much higher plateau. In 1973, Keita and several members of the Rail Band relocated to Abidjian, the capitol of Cote D'Ivoire (The Ivory Coast). Renamed Les Ambassadeurs Internationaux, the group continued to attract attention with their lively fusion of Cuban, Zairean, and Malian influences.
In 1977, Keita received the prestigious National Order of Guinea from President Ahmed Sekou Toure. Encouraged to pursue a solo career, Keita moved to Paris in 1984. Settling in the city's Montreuil section, he found a thriving community of more than 15,000 transplanted Malians. Predictions of success proved true with the release of Keita's debut solo album, Soro, in 1987. Produced by Ibrahim Sylla, the album combined African, jazz, funk, Europop, and R&B influences. In a review of the album, Rolling Stone wrote, "Keita's voice is remarkable in itself. It's high, bracing purity is heightened by a unique phrasing that combines full-tilt warrior strength, the sensual lilt of the Brazilian samba and Islamic prayer calls." Keita continued his recording career with several releases for Mango throughout the '90s, including the Mansa of Mali anthology, before moving to Blue Note for Papa in 1999 and then Decca, where he debuted with Moffou in 2002. ~ Craig Harris