How do you make a compilation of the early years of Salif Keita, one of Mali's golden voices, without his classic "Mandjou"? The answer is, you don't, and it's included on 1969-1980. The tracks mostly come from the latter half of the period, after he'd left the Super Rail Band and set up with les Ambassadeurs. Recorded in Abidjan and Washington, D.C., it's stirring stuff from one of the great, if underrated, African bands. Under the leadership of Kante Manfila, les Ambassadeurs had it all -- the swing and roots, and the jazz abilities equal to anybody, anywhere. But Keita's voice was the icing on the cake, as he proved again and again, not only on "Mandjou," but also tracks like "Mana-Mani" and "Sidiki." He might not have been born into a griot family, but his voice possessed all the magic of a griot, ranging easily from rough to silky, with a staggering emotional range that's amply demonstrated in these songs. If you only know Keita from his solo work -- some of which has been very patchy -- you owe it to yourself to go back and discover his excellent roots.
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AllMusic Review by Chris Nickson