Photo by Banning Eyre

Photo by Banning Eyre

Posted by Banning Eyre (Afropop Worldwide), December 22, 2014:

Mali’s pre-eminent singer/songwriter/bandleader came to New York this fall with an unusual act. In the past, he has brought blazing electric ensembles from Paris or New York, and, in recent years, a superb, mostly Malian band featuring acoustic African instruments. This time, the group was smaller still, even more acoustic, and they performed seated, like court musicians entertaining royalty. The music was transcendent, mixing Keita hits like “Tekere” and “Mandjou” with Mande traditional songs like “Sunjata,” the praise song for Salif’s 13th century ancestor, Sunjata Keita.

Salif performed a spectacular set at SOB’s, and then, the next night, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as part of a series on Mali this fall that included both concerts and fascinating discussions hosted by Henry Louis Gates of Harvard. Salif also performed at gala at the New Africa Center in Harlem. Afropop’s Banning Eyre caught up with Salif the day after his SOB’s gig. Here’s their conversation.

Banning Eyre: Thanks for talking to us.

Salif Keita at SOBs in New York (Eyre 2014)

Salif Keita at SOBs in New York (Eyre 2014)

Salif Keita: It’s a pleasure.

It’s been a while since you are here and we spoke. I think it’s been three years.

Something like that. Maybe even before that.

Let’s start with the new record, Tale. What was the idea of this record?

It’s called Tale, yes. Tale–that is to say there are too many bad players in the game now. Too many people are being protected. Everyone’s protecting everyone else. Money is ruining everything, even nature. The idea of making money is even destroying nature. Even the forests are being destroyed. The planet itself is suffering. I’m speaking generally about this kind of thing in this record.

The word “tale,” what does it mean?

Whatever is yours is mine, whatever is mine is mine. There’s too much of that right now. You understand? What is yours is mine. What is mine is mine. That is not good.

So it’s like greed.

Sure. There’s too much of that. But in this record, I also want to make people dance. There are a lot of dance songs on this record. I wanted to go outside a little bit what I’ve been doing. I’ve been making very calm melodies. But this time, I wanted to make people dance.

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