Salif is expert at doing just that. He brought his eight-person band to Zellerbach Hall at the University of California, Berkeley this April for a virtuoso performance. Salif sings in Malinké, a dialect of the Manding group of languages - prevalent but not predominant in many West African nations including Salif’s Mali, Guinea, Senegal, and the Ivory Coast. He sings in a language incomprehensible to most of his audience, so he has to hold his own with his the strength of his highly accomplished voice .
Salif’s band includes two creative and skilled guitarists: Djeli Moussa Kouyaté and Ousmane Kouyaté, along with a bass player, drummer, a conga player, two backup singers, and a virtuoso musician who plays two kora, West African harps, which have been cued to synthesizers. The star of the show is Mamadou Koné, who plays the calabash - a gourd covered with goatskin and miked underneath. Mamadou’s dexterous playing - he taps the gourd rapid fire - melds with the congas and drums to create a thick, complex polyrhythmic sound.
At the beginning of the second number, Salif announces "My English is like your French," and urges the hall to get up and dance. Everyone responds and the aisles fill up with revelers. At the beginning of the next number, the band leaves the stage and most members of the audience take their seats. Salif plugs in his red, hollow-body guitar and plays two lovely numbers; he is accompanied by the two backup singers.
The band returns to the stage, the aisles once more overflow with dancers, and, following several more tunes, the performance is brought to a rollicking, rambunctious, and rhythmic conclusion.
Coming back for the encore, things take a more serious tone for a few minutes. Salif introduces representative of "Nothing But Nets, an organization which uses $10 contributions from individuals to purchases anti-malarial mosquito nets and distributes them to Africans in need.
After he finishes, Salif announces with a flair that "African music you have to dance" and he and his band go on to shine. There are some surprise additions to the band. A soprano saxophonist emerges to solos, a little lad plays his talking drum; then members of the audience leap on the stage, and, after a bit more jamming, the concert concludes.