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Mali's Salif Keita might possess one of Africa's great voices, but in the past there have been times when his material hasn't done him real justice. That's not the case here--Papa is as close to brilliance as he's likely to get, with enough of a real roots feel to bring out his emotive qualities. For once, the Western studio overlays (done in New York and Paris) don't overwhelm everything else. In fact, the only time they really intrude is when coproducer Vernon Reid (ex-Living Colour) takes a wild guitar solo at the end of the record, and that's an ideal fit. The title track is Keita at his very best, as his voice cracks and soars. This time he's hit it perfectly. --Chris Nickson
Guitarist Salif Keita comes from a prestigious lineage in his native Djoliba, a village west of Bamako in Mali. On both his mother's and father's side, he is a Keita, nobility in that area. However, he always felt like a social outcast because he is an albino. Therefore at age 19, he decided to go against the wishes of his parents and began singing for a living on the streets and in the bars of Bamako. "My family opposed me," Keita says, "but isn't it true that the evolution of civilization is marked all the time by revolution? It was necessary to mark another century that wasn't the century of the ancestors." Keita's new album, Papa - the first in a multi-album deal with Blue Note subsidiary Metro Blue - features both sessions recorded in Bamako and ones recorded in New York. The latter feature jazz musicians like organist John Medeski and drummer Ben Perowski.
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