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Legendary African singer who overcame being outcast to perform at Terrace Theatre

June 11th, 2010 · No Comments · Art, Arts, theater, theatre

The descendant of warrior princes, the son of two black African parents, Afro-pop pioneer Salif Keita was born “white.” Inheriting albinism, a lack of skin pigmentation, Keita instantly stood out among other Africans and stood out as a spokesperson for tolerance in all forms.
The legendary singer addresses this deeply personal issue– albinism in Africa– and gives it an urgent global resonance that takes his songs from Bamako to Beirut. As Keita’s famed “golden voice” cathartically croons in the title track, “I’m a black man, my skin is white and I like it, it’s my difference/I’m a white man, my blood is black, I love that, it’s the difference that’s beautiful.”
The distinction is often interpreted as an ill omen in his native Mali, and invited a life of ridicule, making Keita an outcast in his own community. Society, including public schools in Mali, perpetuates harmful beliefs about albinos, and they are often shunned, ridiculed, and even killed for superstitious purposes.
Although he and others have come to terms with albinism, Keita has struggled long and desperately with the stigma attached to his skin color. Though born into a noted caste of musicians with direct links to Sounjata Keita– the heroic 13th-Century warrior-prince who edified the ancient Malian Empire– Keita was forbidden to play music growing up. He was also disowned by his father, kicked out of school, and rejected by the local aristocracy.
Filled with unrealized musical ambitions, Keita had no choice but to leave Mali as a young man. Armed with the strength of his convictions, he travelled to neighboring Ivory Coast, then Paris, London, and New York, where his skin color could not keep him from expressing his artistic vision. His perseverance paid off throughout the 1970s and 1980s, as he became an internationally recognized icon thanks to his gravely voice, innovative musical arrangements, and profoundly poetic lyrics.
In 1997, Keita’s fame helped him to overcome the stigma attached to albinism that persisted in West Africa, allowing him to make a triumphant return to Mali. Cautiously re-entering a community that once shunned him, he discovered a newfound acceptance, which allowed him to re-establish roots there, including building a studio in the capital of Bamako.
Salif Keita will perform at the Long Beach Terrace Theatre on Tuesday, June 15 at 7:30pm. For ticket information, visit longbeachcc.com or call (562) 436-3636.

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