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Le Rail Band


Mali's Rail Band -- later known as the Super Rail Band -- have an extraordinary history. Post-independence, the Mali government had a policy of funding musical groups to help foster a sense of national identity -- as long as those groups incorporated indigenous styles into their sounds. With dictator Moussa Traore's rise in 1968, that policy fell by the government wayside, only to be taken up and championed by the country's railway system. (Imagine Amtrak funding Jefferson Airplane, and you're halfway there.) The Rail Band formed in 1969 with young albino nobleman Salif Keita at its head. The group's seemingly effortless -- and electric -- blend of Manding music with rumba, soul and funk quickly turned the country on its head. After a string of genre-defining albums, Keita left the Rail Band to join the rival Ambassadors in 1973, and Mory Kante took over the microphone. The groups competed for fans and in the process pushed each other creatively for years. Kante left the Rail Band in 1978 to pursue musical studies and a successful solo career, but the group continues to perform, bolstered in part by the continual presence of Djelimady Tounkara, one of Africa's greatest guitarists.
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