Salif Keita Savors 'La Difference'

Salif Keita i i

African legend Salif Keita just released his new album, La Difference. Courtesy of the artist hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of the artist
Salif Keita

African legend Salif Keita just released his new album, La Difference.

Courtesy of the artist

Mali's best-known singer, Salif Keita, is an albino and, as such, generally viewed with condescension — if not superstition and fear — in much of Africa. Keita has long spoken out on behalf of albinos, but on his new album, he sings about the subject for the first time. The title track of La Difference encapsulates the African legend's career and biography.

Keita sings, "My skin is white ... My blood is black," but that difference is beautiful, something to celebrate. Keita descends from a noble line in Mali, and when he became a singer in the late '60s it was a serious violation of protocol in his traditional society. Singers entertained nobles. Nobles did not sing. But facing life as an albino in Africa, Keita decided early on that he was going to make his own rules. And that's exactly what he's done ever since.

The stigma of albinism has always been part of Keita's biography, one of the things he overcame on his way to international stardom. But then he began hearing grisly stories of massacres in other parts of Africa — albinos being sacrificed so that their blood, hair and body parts could be sold for use in rituals. A few years back, Keita started a foundation to counter superstition about albinism. But with this song he makes it personal, saying not only that albinism is beautiful, but that the very fact of being different is beautiful.

Keita has traveled a long road to sing this song, both in his life experience, and with his music. After experimenting with jazz, reggae, Latin music and rock, Keita had a revelation a few years back. He arrived at what he considers an ideal blend of traditional African sounds and modern musical aesthetics — a sound that perfectly expresses who he is.

This is Keita‚Äôs third album since his musical epiphany and it finds him more at home in his sound than ever. What a perfect moment for him to exclaim — "I'm black, and I'm white, and I'm proud." Vive la difference, indeed!

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