Salif Keita La Difference

At 60, the so-called "golden voice of Africa" is still going strong, and this new gem ranks amongst his very best. Keita sticks to his roots by recording at his studio in Mali, and this is the third in a trilogy of acoustic-oriented albums. He is unafraid of incorporating cosmopolitan musical influences. Imaginative percussion, female backing vocals, plaintive trumpet, subtle string arrangements (recorded in Lebanon) and the balafon playing of Keletigui Diabate all add rich aural atmosphere, but it's that mesmerizing, gentle voice that deservedly occupies centre stage. A highlight is his new version of "Folon," originally recorded in 1995. The more minimal take features Bill Frisell and showcases Keita's voice at its haunting best. Another old song given a softer treatment is "Seydou." The album title is a reference to Keita's albinism, a condition that led to him being ostracized earlier in his life. He has triumphed, personally and musically. Viva La Difference. (Emarcy)