Salif Keita

The Best of the Early Years

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From the Wrasse label comes this compilation of works featuring the great Mansa of Mali in his earlier days. The album essentially covers the years up to 1984, when Les Ambassadeurs broke up. The coverage is of the old Rail Band days with Mory Kante, the Ambassadeurs days (from Bamako and Abidjan) with Kante Manfila, and some of the early solo work from Salif Keita. The instrumental work is outstanding, as both of the bands of which Keita was a member were known for their musicality (as well as taking Mandingo music electric and mixing in some Cuban sounds). The highlight is, of course, Keita's powerful vocals, though at the time of some of these recordings, he still hadn't spent much time listening to American singers (Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, and Tina Turner are often cited as influences), so the sound isn't developed to the stage it was at later. If there is any problem to be had with the album, it's that the recording quality is at times mildly less than perfect (though still not too bad). The music is good, and Keita's singing exceptional. This album makes the perfect companion to the Golden Voice compilation, also on Wrasse, which features Keita's work post-Ambassadeurs. Together, these two albums provide a stunning overview of the full career of a legend.

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