Salif Keita | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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The slick flavor of Malian singer Salif Keita's last few albums on the Mango label has reflected his own desire to make his music more accessible to Western audiences (it was Keita and not some label honcho who, after listening to some Weather Report records, chose Joe Zawinul as producer-arranger for the 1991 Amen). Ever since his move to Paris in 1982, his recordings have partaken of the same burblingly harmless "world beat" sound that now seems to have become one of the wallpapers of choice for a large segment of Western yuppiedom. It's a shame, considering what a great singer he is. Those turned off by all that MIDI mess need to hear the much funkier sides Keita recorded in Mali and the Ivory Coast with his old band Les Ambassadeurs (one lineup of which included the Guinean guitarist Ousmane Kouyate). A single track from this period--1978's classic "Mandjou"--appears on the recently released Mango anthology The Mansa of Mail . . . A Retrospective; here Keita's tenor pierces the air with an incantatory stridency reminiscent of the great Arabic singers of North Africa, while the band grinds a scary guitar-and-combo-organ groove. Despite the relative wimpiness of Keita's more recent recordings, it's apparent that he still has that voice, and also that he has developed into a songwriter with an interesting sense of poetic drama. And given the fact that what sounds safely contained in the high-tech recording studio often busts wide open on the nightclub stage, it's entirely possible that Keita's live show (it's his first-ever U.S. tour) may yield some of the spontaneous excitement absent from the discs. Thursday, April 14, 7:30 PM, the Vic, 3145 N. Sheffield; 4720449, 559-1212, or 525-7793.

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