Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Track of the Week

Salif Keita – Madan

It is now over a year since French military forces responded to Mali’s emergency calls for urgent support following a coup d’etat, collapse in civil authority and the huge momentum gathering behind a patchwork of militant groups. Following a very eventful intervening 12 months, the return of elections and stability has not deterred people from being cautious about the fractured and vulnerable state of Malian affairs.

Mali’s music scene has been equally cautious at climbing out of its shell. As far as most mainstream Western broadcasters are concerned, the main development in this regard has been the arrival of the Africa Express that introduced the previously-unknown and the up-and-coming of Mali to some Malian and world greats – including Salif Keita, the artist behind this week’s Track of the Week. Gemma Cairney, who was in Mali at the time with the BBC, was write to stress in this interview the difficulties Keita faced due to his albinism and the “crusading” work he has undertaken to support the albino community in Africa. Despite being a direct relation to Sundiata Keita – the founder of the Mali Empire in the early 13th century – he has battled to become the “Golden Voice of Africa”.

Sadly, the Festival au Desert is still ‘In Exile’ and just goes to how difficult the current situation is for Mali’s musicians away from Bamako. Tourism, a large part of the music industry, has taken a big hit. In the context of the present and reflecting on recent past, the song – released on the 2002 album ‘Moffou’ – takes on a nostalgic edge.  This week track is a proper feel-good song, but it does hark back to an era of stability. The work of Africa Express to “revive” normality is an act which – by its very nature – continues the state of exception. The one-off air-drop into Mali has been a great contribution, no doubt, but in another 12 months can we expect to have feel-good, almost care-free afro-beat emanating from Mali on the global airwaves? What is the role of Mali’s rising stars and its legends? In the last 12 months a brave new Mali has been formed. In the next 12 we’ll have new songs and musicians to tell us about it.

For certain, Mali’s musicians have been excellent in their articulation of a nation’s feelings on the conflict and the turmoil. Unfortunately in this regard their job is not over yet.

Salif Keita – Madan


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