Salif Keita turned 60 in 2009, which was also the year in which the veteran Malian singer recorded most of La Différence (although parts of the album were recorded in 2008). At that age, Keita had nothing left to prove; he had long since established himself as a major figure in Mali's Afro-pop scene. But his desire to excel remained, and he is in fine form throughout La Différence. In contrast to all the keyboards and synthesizers he used back in the 1980s, La Différence has a largely acoustic outlook -- not exclusively acoustic, but largely acoustic. Although some electric instruments are used (including electric guitar and Hammond B-3 organ), acoustic instruments are more prominent. And all those acoustic instruments -- which range from horns to oud (an Arabic lute) to upright bass -- do a lot to give this 49-minute CD its earthy, rootsy character. La Différence is not an album of traditional Malian music; this is modern Malian pop, with a strong Western influence and an obvious appreciation of American blues and R&B as well as French chanson (Mali, after all, is among the Francophone countries in sub-Saharan Africa). But the influence of traditional Malian music is also quite strong, and that East/West blend yields memorable results on haunting tracks such as "Gaffou," "Ekolo d'Amour," "San Ka Na," and "Samiga." Malian music -- both traditional Malian music and contemporary Malian pop -- has long been known for its haunting quality, which this recording most certainly has. La Différence falls shorts of essential, but even so, this excellent album paints a consistently appealing picture of Keita at 59 and 60.
La Différence Review
by Alex Henderson