The Paris-based West African singer, Salif Keita performed the opening weekend of The Chicago World Music Festival to a dancing crowd of fans.
Concord Music Hall
Saturday night Keita performed a 75 minute set of infectious dance music. The rhythms combined with intricate, melodic, trance-like instrumental grooves wove this complex sound that had the crowd in motion from beginning to end. Prominent to the ensemble was ever present kora, a 21 string, bridge harp west African instrument played by Mamadou Diabate. The plucking rhythms make this sound distinct, organic, tribal and a counterpoint to Djessou Mory Kante's electric guitar. For a more intimate moment mid-set, Keita played acoustic guitar then returned to the high energy of the full ensemble. Keita stood stoic through the set while singing. He was majestic while holding command of the stage, the music, and the whole room. Back up singers Salimata Traore, Aminata Dante and Marie Virginie Dembele continually swayed and danced, never tiring. But notably during the closing number, Traore and Dembele took turns center stage dancing with pure abandon; high kicks and arms flying.
Chicagoan's knew they were enjoying the rare treat to see Salif Keita perform live and they certainly appreciated it. So a big shout out and thanks goes to Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) for not only booking this concert, but organizing the multi-week 19 year old festival, while providing it all free to the public.
For those not familiar with Salif Keita, he has had a long and winding career leading up to becoming an Afropop legend. He had noble, yet humble beginning as a direct descendent of the founding warrior king who established Mali. Becoming a musician did not align with Mali royalty. Something below a noble. However as an albino, he was ostracized from his family and village leading him to the isolated life as a shepherd. It was here that he developed a his signature singing style. First a member of a government sponsored band, he soon moved to Paris and began his own recording career. Now in his late 60s, he has twenty releases in his catalogue. An enduring music career.
Djessou Mory Kante - guitar
Mamadou Diabate - kora
Abou Cisse - programming
Molobaly Kone - percussion
Tim Keiper - drums
Aminata Dante - vocals
Salimata Traore - vocals & dance
Marie Virginie Dembele - vocals & dance