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Takeifa: rocking Senegal and beyond

By Alison Hird

Senegal's Takeifa is a family affair: the five siblings belt out hard rock in Wolof and boast the country's only female professional bass player. Jac, Cheikh and Maah Keita talk to RFI about their new album Gass Giss and keeping the struggle for albino rights up there on stage.

The Keïta family's adventure began in the town of Kaolack in south Senegal back in 1992.

Jacn then 11, asked his dad for a guitar, got one with no strings and made his own using bicycle brake cables.

"My dream in my life is just to play music," he told RFI.

He began with hip hop but broadened the sound to include hardcore rock when his three brothers and sister joined him a decade later to form Takeifa. In 2006 they moved to Dakar and started playing on the club circuit. But guitarist Cheikh admits it was a hard slog in the early days.

"Senegal [wasn't] easy for us. We do another style of music, it's not mbalax that Senegalese people know. So when we start it wasn't easy, we have to work very hard."

The hard work has paid off, earning them a strong following at home and now, increasingly, abroad

Their latest album is called Gass Giss (Seek and you will find). So what are they looking for?

"Bling bling! Medallions!" laughs Jac.

"No, we're looking for giving our music more power, for our music to travel around the world," Cheikh chimes in.

The band have opened for big names including Tiken Jah Fakoly, Alpha Blondy, Femi Kuti, Daara J, Public Enemy... Senegalese star Baaba Maal features on the song Ndanane.

"Ndanane means notable [public figure] in Wolof," says Maah, the band's bass player. "We believe Baaba Maal has got the values to be a ndanane [...] values like respect, determination, a hard worker."

Cheikh, Jac and Maah at RFI RFI/Alison Hird

A unique female bass player

Maah plays bass with hardcore attitude on several tracks, notably Supporter. "We are three [female bass players] in Africa and I'm the only one in Senegal," she explains.

"I've been encouraged by my brothers and year by year I've proved I learned from other bass players in Senegal and other female bass players in Africa and USA. I mix all those experiences to build my style of playing bass."

Like the majority of albinos, Maah is visually impaired and learnt guitar "without being able to see", earning her additional respect from her brothers.

"She's amazing," says Jac. "She has such great hearing, she senses immediately when something isn't quite right, she keeps the band on track."

My destiny as an albino

Maah Keita has founded the non-profit Care Albinos which helps people born with albinism. So how does she want to be seen?

"When I'm on the stage I am a woman who does her work and does it well," she says. "But my destiny is to represent this minority of persons who can't express themselves and to talk about their problems."

Albinos have to cope with physical disabilities like visual impairment; it can make finding work difficult. But they also face enormous social prejudice and violent attacks based on age-old misconceptions about their condition.

"Before material support, albino people need to know that they can live a normal life like other persons, without discrimination," says Maah. "And this message has to be [passed on] to albino people but also their families, to schools and to people in general. If all those people can know that, I think we can resolve the other problems more easily."

Takeifa are currently on tour in Europe. Follow the band on Facebook

Maah et Jac Keïta. © RFI/Laurence Aloir

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