Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

(b 1949, Djoliba, Mali) Vocalist, composer, educated in Bamako; an albino, descended from ancient kings who formed the Malian empire in the 13th century. He began with the Rail Band, a highly rated Malian group formed in 1970 with government sponsorship, then left '73 to join big band Les Ambassadeurs, its leader Kante Manfila a legendary acoustic guitarist and composer. Keïta extended its repertoire by adding local rhythms and music to existing Congo/Cuban sound: three LPs on Safari Ambiance label from '77 were Les Ambassadeurs du Motel and two volumes of Les Ambassadeurs du Motel de Bamako. He received an award from President Sékou Touré of Guinea in recognition of musical achievements '77 and wrote 'Mandjou' (later the title track of an album on Celluloid), telling history of Mali and paying tribute to Sékou Touré. Single 'Primpin' ' was a big hit throughout West Africa (on compilation Best Of The Ambassadeurs '83 on Celluloid). The band left Mali for Abidjan, the musical capital of Francophone Africa, in an effort to crack the international market, changing its name to Les Ambassadeurs Internationaux; albums reflecting the mature sound of the band with stunning sax and guitar solos and unmistakably Islamic vocals included Djougouya and Tounkan.

After a decade together tension between Keïta and Manfila caused a split; Keïta formed Super Ambassadeurs, toured Europe to appreciative audiences; his album Soro '87 on Stern's (Mango in USA) was a breakthrough, made at the 48-track Harry Son studio in Paris: it was short measure on CD and with extremely 'cold' digital sound (no sonic ambience whatever), but still a beautiful set, retaining African values and the biggest African hit of the year, followed by Ko-Yan and Amen, the latter a collaboration with Joe Zawinul, nominated for a Grammy '92. Folon included a new version of his signature tune 'Mandjou'; compilation The Mansa Of Mali '95 included early work with Les Ambassadeurs and soundtrack work for French film L'Enfant Lion, all on Mango. Sosi '97 on a Danish label Mellemfolkeligt Samvirke (dist. by Stern's UK) saw him doing French songs (including one by Mort Shuman); it had been rejected by Mango pre-Folon. Everything he does is unforced, majestic artistry.