Salif Keita’s fantastic performance at #SafaricomJazz

Moran band

It is hard to imagine a world without Salif Keita’s music but if he wasn’t born with albinism he might not have become a musician. Salif Keita was born of the royal class, and he was never meant to be a musician which would have been a really sad thing because we would have missed out on great music. In the Mali culture there was a certain caste that was supposed to be performers, the common class, the Griots. Salif was ostracized because of his albinism and this is what lead him to become a musician. Music was the only way Salif could create his own identity and he has created music that millions around the world, both young and old can enjoy.

Salif Keita performing. Photo Credit Safaricom
Salif Keita performing. Photo Credit Safaricom

Salif Keita has a very powerful, soaring voice that you have to experience firsthand to really feel it. In the studio a singer’s natural voice can be boosted and sometimes it is only by listening to them live is when you will realize how great or awful a musician really is.

The BOMAS of Kenya has not hosted an entertainment event of this kind in a very longtime. Even before the day arrived, the tickets were already sold out. When we got to the BOMAS, there were people trying to get last minute tickets, although it had been announced that tickets were over, people were still hoping to get lucky. The atmosphere was festive; there were tents all over where one could buy food and drinks. There were also bonfires where people could seat, and get warm as they enjoyed a few drinks while waiting for the doors to be opened.

We are welcomed by acrobats playing with fire and some acrobats on stilts. My first stop was a tent where some young men were playing some jazz numbers. They were not a group I had seen before but I was impressed. Moran Band were pretty good I have to say. They have a future in music, maybe one day they may also be a curtain raiser for one of the major headline artists.

Moran band
Moran band

I actually got to get my first taste of mulled wine brewed in a sufuria. Apparently mulled wine is wine which is mixed with spices and heated. In this case it was in a sufuria. It wasn’t bad, spicy in a nice way.

We went and sat around one of the bonfires as we waited for the gates to be opened. At around 730 the doors to the BOMAS of Kenya were opened. The set up was called Jazz town and you could seat and listen to music from anywhere in the room. The acoustics were fantastic.

James Gogo and the Gogo Simo band started us off and they were a great choice for an opening act. They played a blend of coastal and jazz music, it was a great way to start the show and get people hyped up. We got to dance to some chakacha as well.

James Gigo and the Gogo Simo band. Photo credit
James Gigo and the Gogo Simo band. Photo credit

By the time Salif Keita got on stage we were ready to dance and sing along. Salif Keita and his band brought the house down, the music was fantastic. The Kora player was a favourite with the crowd, strumming our joy with his fingers. From the beginning of his performance, people stood up to dance and sway to the music. He also gave fans a chance to get on the stage and dance, and there were some comic moments.

Salif Keita's Kora player. Photo Credit Safaricom
Salif Keita’s Kora player. Photo Credit Safaricom

Salif’s music blends both old and new music, using traditional and modern instruments together. They blend into some beautiful music, creating a unique pop sound. Salif’s music draws inspiration from his Mali background, but there are also other elements in his music. His music has Islamic, French, soul, rock, jazz, reggae, and Caribbean influences. His music is very powerful and it transcends language. The venue was packed and many people who are not French/Mali speaking were dancing, slapping and swaying to the music. Over the years Salif Keita has experimented with different types of songs and sounds, some have worked and others have not. But like an energy bunny Salif has kept on going and experimenting.

Salif’s music is a blend of technology and tradition. It lives and breathes Africa, and you can hear the acoustic sounds of rhythms of Mali, a fusion of old and new.

Salif Keita was backed by two female singers, instrumentalists on guitar, drums and the Kora. All that I can say is that it was sort of spiritual, the kind of music that moves your body, heart and mind.
There was not so much space at the front to dance, some lucky people got to dance there but there was enough space where we were sitting for us to dance and we did. The power of music to unite people was evident as people enjoyed themselves as they listened to the music, both young and old. There were some children who had come to the show and they were a joy to watch as they danced.

The next Safaricom lounge will be taking place in December and there will be two events, one in Nairobi and one in Mombasa. All I can say is next time do not wait to buy your tickets at the door, it is bound to be a great performance and you don’t want to stay home regretting why you are missing the concert.

We had a fantastic time and all I can say is see you in December.

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Managing editor and blogger at Potentash. Passionate about telling African stories. Find me at [email protected]