There aren’t many artists who use balafons — there aren’t many artists who know what it is — but Salif Keita integrates them regularly in his music.
Born in a village in Mali, Keita was an outcast in his own community due to his albinism. Despite his unfortunate situation at home — political unrest in Mali led him to seek refuge in Ivory Coast — he has overcome his obstacles and is now known today as the Golden Voice of Africa.
The balafon — a large, wooden instrument with planks — isn’t the only culturally significant instrument he plays. Keita takes influences from all over the world and blends them into beautiful, unique compositions that embrace traditional Malian sounds. Guitars, veenas, koras and djembe drums are just another small sample of instruments Keita uses in his pieces, and influences come from all over West Africa and Spanish-influenced countries.
On Sept. 10, Keita will be performing an original piece, “Mandjou,” at the Musical Instrument Museum’s Theater. His signature Islamic rhythm, a slow and poignant melody of wooden instruments, speeds up with a Cuban-influenced sound. Guitars, saxophones and an organ are synthesized into a much more uplifting beat.
The song itself was written as a praise for the Malian people — and this is what makes Keita such a memorable artist. Despite using influences from as far away as Spain to as close to home as his own village, and despite being an internationally respected artist, Keita’s songs are continuously a nod to his homeland.
The Musical Instrument Museum picked a fantastic artist to feature in the upcoming week. As a building that takes pride in preserving archaic music while uplifting new influences, Salif Keita’s own musical ethos does the exact same.
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