A lush green park on a warm summer evening. Food and drink vendors weaving through twenty thousand people chilling on the grass. Big, bouncy rubber balls flying through the air in an attempted communal volleyball game. And, the smell of marijuana. What felt like Glastonbury or Woodstock was actually Santiago a Mil’s free show by Salif Keita, "Africa’s Golden Voice" in Parque Araucano.
(salifkeita15.jpg Photo courtesy Salif Keita)
Born in Mali in West Africa, Salif Keita was ostracized by his community for being albino, a sign of bad luck in Mandinka custom. Furthermore, as a direct descendant of Sundiata Keita, Mandinka warrior king and founder of the Mali Empire, singing was not a choice occupation as royal heritage. After leaving his home to explore his voice and musical traits in West Africa and southern Europe, Keita later helped the spread of West African music on the international scene, finding huge success in Europe and the United States.
(salifkeita04.jpg Photo courtesy Salif Keita)
Now that he lives back in Mali, the anticipation here in Chile of seeing Salif Keita was phenomenal due to his global success as an African star of world music. He and his band managed to blow Chile out of the water with his three free shows across the country--one in Antofagasta and two in Santiago--which closed out in Parque Araucano on January 21.
Following acoustic folklore support artists, Keita, dressed in regal white, took the stage with his eight-member band. The drummer and two percussionists manically battered at their instruments, creating addictive African dance rhythms. Two guitarists hammered Jimmy Page-style solos. Keita’s divine voice sang out heavenly melodies in Bambara, a language native to Mali, in a style influenced by Islamic music and a touch of Euro pop. But what I couldn't peel my eyes away from, as with most in the crowd, were the mesmerizing backup singers--two tall, athletic, beautiful women dancing free-spiritedly in stunning dresses.
As the show progressed the crowd's movements turned into one enormous tribal dance. The faster the song was, the crazier the crowd became. Arms waved in the air as Zulu-like shouts bellowed. People threw their bodies around in the most ridiculous ways possible, all guided by Salif Keita’s exuberant and uplifting pulses.
Between each song Salif Keita thanked the audience, yet in reality it was the Chilean crowd that was sincerely grateful for the stupendous show he and his band put on.