Voice reporter Kabelo Dipholo recently had a leisurely drive on the Western-bypass with legendary Malian artist Salif Keita. In a modest 1996 model Venture Stallion the celebrated artist talked about his personal life, albinism, political situation in Africa and his intention to retire from music.
Q. Thank you very much for agreeing to this interview on such short notice.
I guess I don’t have a choice, do I?
Q. I guess not. You were in this country 11 years ago in 1999. What changes have you seen in the country so far?
Botswana has really flourished into a very beautiful country. The infrastructure is amazing which is a good thing for a small country like yours.
Q. You are known to be very critical of African politicians especially back home in Mali. Why do you have so much passion for the African continent?
As an artist I have a duty to play in society. We only have one continent and all have the responsibility to make sure that our continent is kept safe for the next generation.
Q. How difficult is it for musicians to stay away from politics. Are you under any pressure to make political comments from time to time?
Not really. I’m not under any pressure to comment on political issues, the thing is as an artist I use music to air my views. My music is influenced by what is happening around me and it is my choice whether I sing about it or not.
Q. Have you ever been under any political pressure from your rulers in Mali?
Yes, they don’t like me very much there and I like it that way.
Q. Could this have been the reason why you decided to spend most of your early days as a musician in France?
That is true, but I have come back to my country and will be working from there from now on.
Q. You are an avid supporter of the formation of the United States of Africa, why is this so?
Africa has been taken advantage by the West for centuries by systematically turning us against each other. The West does not want a united Africa, they are afraid of us. They want us to remain dived because that way it becomes very easy for them to manipulate and abuse us. We need to be united and speak with one voice.
Q. You have also been a vocal ambassador for the albinos, what message do you usually try to put across?
The message is very simple; people need to embrace difference. It does not make sense to kill or abuse another person just because they look different. I have a white skin but have black blood running through my veins. We have black people with white blood and all these differences are for a purpose, we are all children of God.
Q. What is the biggest challenge faced by a person with albinism?
The most difficult thing for albinos is to accept themselves. Most are ashamed of their condition and live a life of isolation. It is important for albinos to accept their condition and have confidence that they are just like everybody else. However most importantly it is very vital that the society does not treat them differently.
Q. As a member of the royal family it would be very easy for you to influence your people politically. Do you have any ambitions of being a politician?
Not at all, I hate politics. All I want from our African political leaders is for them to love Africa and her people.
Q. Your life story has been retold across many countries, but the most intriguing part is on your relationship with your parents. Have they ever accepted you as a musician?
No, they wanted me to quit, but look here I’m doing what I love. This is my livelihood, it is far much better than stealing or begging. Music has given me a fine life and I have loved every moment of it.
Q. Do you intend fulfilling your parents’ wish by finally quitting music?
I have no intention of doing such a thing. When I quit it will be because I’m tired of performing, not to please anybody.
Q. Any plans to retire soon?
Er..I don’t know, maybe after another album I would think of retiring.
Q. Besides music what else do you do?
I’m a teacher by profession; I have a teaching Degree.
Q. Artists are known to collaborate with each other from time to time, which musician would you like to work with in the future?
In this industry it is very difficult to get what you want. I can’t say I want such and such a person but I can tell you that I intend to work with Latin musicians. I would love my next album to have a Latin touch to it.
Q. You have touched so many lives in the world and perhaps even influenced a lot of musicians in and out of Africa. Who is your favourite African musician?
It is very difficult to say. There are great musicians from so many African countries that I just can’t pick one. We have the likes of Hugh Masekela who I think it would be wonderful to work with.
Q. Which one word best describes you?
Q. Salif it was a pleasure talking to you, but one last question; are you married?
(Long pause)…Look here. I’m married to many wives ok..!
Full names: Salif Keita
Place of birth: Mali
Date of birth: 1939
Holiday destination: Africa, there is so much that I have still not seen in this continent
Favourite food: Mali traditional food (futu)
Marital status: Married
Pasttime: Fishing and ball sports