Salif Keita – Roundhouse, London (Live Review)

For such a highly polished musician with a legendary talent, Salif Keita’s gigs are surprisingly varied. On a bad night everything is muted, distant, by the numbers, but this was not a bad night, oh no, a bad night this was not…


The Roundhouse in Camden has also come in for some criticism with the sound being lost in the domed roof at some previous gigs there but on this occasion two wrongs did make a right and Salif Keita fired his way through a set familiar to fans of his last two albums. The man himself was on top form, interrupting his round the stage walk to dance and cajole the very best out of his musicians. What amazing musicians on talking drum, kora, bass and guitar in particular, they were.
Perking things up even further were the dancers, two pretty girls of course but a fabulously tall and outrageously camp dressed man possessed of supernatural abilities on the dancefloor. If you were there at the gig, you will know he pulled a couple of women out of the audience to dance on the stage. One of those was our own Lydia Martin who later claimed that she was not trying to volunteer to dance she was just waving at the guy. You decide.
For an encore Salif played ‘Mandjou’ a song that has rattled round my head ever since I heard it and is without doubt one of the finest songs ever to come out of Africa. Some say he composed this song in thanks for being made Minister For Music and Culture in neighbouring Guinea while others believe that the song was payback for President Ahmed Sékou Touré’s intercession with Salif’s father, who had disowned him in shame that a member of the royal lineage should be a common singer.
I once saw a clip of this song on TV and they had taken the trouble to translate the rather obsequious lyrics praising the big man of Guinea. Whichever story is true, Salif would have been aware that life as a minister in Guinea (even an honorary minister) was risky. No fewer than 50 ministers in Tourés reign would be imprisoned, tortured or executed. Fortunately for Salif Keita, apparently Touré was so taken with the song that he had his witchdoctor curse it so that only Salif could perform it. To this day I have not heard a cover version of this monster hit.
To hear the song live in Camden was more than I could have hoped for and topped an already fine gig for me. It was the perfect set for me (a golden classic, lots of fresh stuff, hardly any 80s dross); a band clearly loving the music; a top venue; a great crowd. Flawless.
One of the top five gigs I have ever been to.

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