Mamani Keita

Mamani Keita

 Bamako, Bamako, MLI

Malian vocalist Mamani Keita has been touching hearts and minds in both Africa and Europe since the release of the universally applauded 2002 album, Electric Bamako. Since that time, Keita has made it clear that she is not just ‘another’ African diva, which is one of the reasons why she is so exciting a prospect.


In Mali, it is customary that those who have the royal name of Keita are banned from singing or playing an instrument. Fortunately, there are some exceptions. Mamani Keita, who used to be a back-up singer for another Keita outcast (Salif), is set to become on of the main ambassadors of modern African music. Gagner l’Argent Français (“To earn French money” in English), her third album, verging on rock, is her most electric to date. The one where she is the most daring. It highlights a strong, passionate, and independent personality as well as a rebellious voice in which her mandinke heritage is unleashed by the inventive and eclectic sonic environment created by Nicolas Repac, the guitarist and arranger famous for his work with long time collaborator Arthur H.

Mamani Assitan Keita was born in Bamako. She never knew her father and lost her mother when she was 13 years old. Her maternal grandmother, Babinesitan Traoré, who brought her up, was the first to notice her talents when the little girl sang on her way to fetch water from the well. Her elder would say: “This one is going to live an adventurous life”. Almost instantly, Mamani fulfilled this prophecy and registered to the biannual talent show where the dance troupes and musical ensembles of the various neighbourhoods of the city compete. Winner of the “best soloist of Bamako” prize, she was hired as a singer within the Badema National, a prestigious ensemble that features Kassémady Diabaté, one of the purest voices of West Africa.

And then it was Salif Keita who noticed her and brought her along with him to Paris in the late 1980’s. She was 17, had never been to school and did not speak a word of French. As an illegal alien in France, she lived on edge for 7 years. She was worried by the faintest noise behind closed doors. Her heart raced every time she went around the corner of the subway tunnels, for fear of being asked for documentation. Nevertheless, her ambition and survival instinct turned out to be stronger. The birth of her daughter, whom she is raising on her own, brought on additional pressure to succeed. Thus, she started working on a number of different hybrid projects including one with the band Tama (Realworld). Her encounter with rock musician Marc Minelli was a real turning point. With him, she recorded the album Electro Bamako, in which she uses her native language, bambara, and her mandinke heritage with the self-educated non-conformism that became her trademark. Determined, naïve and without reservations, she contributed to the seasoning of jazz and electro on songs that nevertheless preserved their African essence.

In 2006, she slid into Nicolas Repac’s the tailor-made arrangements with the same gutsy and easy-going attitude. This gave us Yelema, her second record, the first on the Nø Førmat! label, on which traditional instrumentation and computer programming are intertwined. The multi-faceted singer projected the expression of an African woman’s heart. In love, angry, moved by the fate of orphans, and brave in the face of adversity. When he describes her voice, Nicolas Repac says that she expresses “gentleness carved in stone”. But he then adds that he does not know whether this voice belongs to “a 16 year old child or an 80 year old woman”. This ambiguity, her ancestral and childlike aspects, has fascinated the public. An audience that includes the American artist Dee Dee Bridgewater, who invited her to participate on the 2007 album Red Earth (A Malian Journey) and then brought her along for a world tour.

Over the course of this long journey, Mamani crafted the songs for Gagner l’Argent Français, to which the guitarist Djeli Moussa Kouyaté brought the finishing touches. The tracks were then subjected to the intricate sonic editing of Nicolas Repac’s poetic imagination. Some of them rely on a rock foundation (Sinikan, Gagner l’Argent Français) with a tapestry of guitars and a binary rhythm. Others transport us into dub’s hypnotic round (Massigui) or the hard-hitting paraphrase of afro beat (Konia). The traditional mandinke instruments, -ngoni, kora, monocorde-, are meshed with globalized samples, klezmer clarinette, Chinese lute, classical strings. In the end, it could sound like one of those exotic gardens where the magnolias cast a shadow over the ferns, where the cactus pisses off the rhododendron, where confusion is king. But there is nothing but harmony, respect and adventure with a horizon that keeps moving as the songs progress, suspension bridges that bring us from one world to the next without even a hint of turbulence, from the savannah to a marvellous used sound store, from a village chant to an old 1930’s tune. It is within this surprising, audacious, unorthodox yet coherent environment that Mamani Keita proudly and fiercely asserts an independence that she dearly earned. May she speak of her life, her mistakes, her successes, may she spread wisdom like the elders and romance like the young girl fetch


2002 : Electro Bamako (Universal)
2006 : Yelema (No Format! / Universal)
2011 : Gagner l'argent Français (No Format! / Universal)

Set List

Tracklisting of the new album
("Gagner l'argent français") :

Gagner l'argent franc¸ais
Demissen Koulou