Salif Keita's success story reads like an improbable historical novel. Born in Mali and descended from a famous warrior king of the Manding Empire, Keita is an albino, which is still considered bad luck in many parts of Africa. He was ostracized from birth, and his childhood was marred by his father's oft-expressed revulsion. Although it was considered shameful for people of his caste to become entertainers, he must have felt that he didn't have much lose, so he migrated to the capitol city of Bamako bent on a career as a singer. After epochal stints fronting bands like Rail Band and les Ambassadeurs, he moved to Paris during the mid-'80s. His reputation had proceeded him, and he quickly became a fixture on the flourishing African music circuit. Although he was famous in Africa and had achieved a strong fan base among connoisseurs around the world, Soro was his international breakthrough album. The project was produced by Ibrahima Sylla, a visionary who had already discovered dozens of African stars and would later become the driving force behind Africando. The arrangements featured the roiling rhythms, slightly nasal female backup choirs, and traditional percussion typical of Malian music. But these were nearly overwhelmed by attack-trained brass charts, rocked-out electric guitars, overtly synthetic keyboards, and programmed drums. In retrospect, only a voice as powerful as Keita's could have not only managed to cut through the din but make an ally of it. Despite a tendency to sound somewhat dated, Soro preserves the Golden Voice of Mali at an absolute peak of perfection, alternately soaring, laser-like, or caressing. Although this melting pot only narrowly avoids boiling over, it must be placed near the top of any list of the master's most influential albums.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Christina Roden