He is in Paris to promote his 14th album Un Autre Blanc (Another White), the title a reference to his struggles as a singer-songwriter with albinism. Keita says it is definitely his last. “I will do some concerts and perhaps some tours. Nothing major and not another album.” He shakes his head. “Too much work. I am going to rest.”
Going “back to the country” means returning to the village of Djoliba, 23 miles south of the Malian capital Bamako, which takes its name from the local Mandingue language for the river Niger on whose banks it sits. Keita grew up here, during the last years of French colonial rule – Mali became independent in 1960 – as one of 10 children in a family directly descended from the warrior king Sundiata Keita, the 13th-century founder of the Mali empire. They were but dirt poor.
The musician has said his father was shocked but not entirely surprised when he was born with albinism, a condition caused by the absence of melanin pigmentation in the skin. There had been others with the condition on his mother’s side of the family. “It is a problem in places where cousins marry, a problem of culture,” he explains.