Afropop star Salif Keita cancels Israel gig after boycott calls

World-renowned Afropop sensation Salif Keita has canceled a scheduled performance in occupied Jerusalem following a campaign by Palestine solidarity activists.

Keita claims he canceled due to “threats” (see update below).

The Israeli producers of the Jerusalem Festival of Sacred Music announced on their official Facebook page today:

Salif Keita canceled his participation in the Jerusalem Festival of Sacred Music. A few hours before his departure for Jerusalem the Malian musician Salif Keita decided to heed the demands of the cultural boycott of Israel and to cancel his participation in the closing concert of the festival.

Israel’s Ynet also reported the statement in Hebrew today.

Keita, known as the “Golden Voice of Africa,” took the step following appeals including a letter from Farid Esack, an active member of BDS South Africa and veteran of the anti-apartheid struggle, and Campagne BDS France, among others.

Appearance part of Israeli propaganda efforts

Keita, who has released 20 albums in a career spanning four decades, had been due to appear this week at the “Sacred Music Festival,” in occupied Jerusalem.

According to the official program Keita was to perform on 23 August in an event called “A Celebratory Trans-Contentinental Groove” along with Gil Ron Shama, an Israeli musician appointed by the foreign ministry as its “goodwill ambassador to Muslim countries.”

The festival is part of a program of events sponsored by the occupation municipality which is notorious, among other things, for home demolitions targeting Palestinian families.

Esack’s letter to Keita had likened Israel’s practices to apartheid in South Africa and highlighted Israel’s racism and xenophobia targeting Africans.

Keita’s reported move follows just days after Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters released a much-anticipated letter calling on fellow musicians to boycott Israel.

There was no comment on Keita’s verified Twitter account, which has not been updated since 2011.

Update: Salif Keita claims to have canceled due to “threats”

Salif Keita is claiming that he canceled his performance in Jerusalem on Friday due to “threats.”

The claim is made in a statement posted on his official Facebook fan page and the Facebook page of his foundation that raises awareness about albinism.

Signed by Keita and his wife, Coumba Makalou, the statement claims that he canceled his performance due to “dangerous threats by BDS.”

Makalou is the director of the Salif Keita Global Foundation.

According to the statement:

The reason for the cancellation is not one which was made by Mr. Keita, but by his agents who were bombarded with hundreds of  threats, blackmail attempts, intimidation, social media harrassment and slander stating that Mr Keita was to perform in Israel, “not for peace, but for apartheid.”

These threats were made by a group named BDS, who also threatened to keep increasing an anti-Salif Keita campaign, which they had already started on social media, and to work diligently at ruining the reputation and career that Mr. Keita has worked 40 years to achieve not only professionally, but for human rights and albinism.

BDS is a broad, global Palestinian-led campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions on Israel.

The statement affirmed “we love Israel” and claimed, “management decided to act cautiously when faced with an extremist group, as we believe BDS to be.”

The statement provided no specific examples of “dangerous threats,” nor did it say any such threats had been reported to police or law enforcement as should be done with any threats to life or limb.

It added that Keita had planned to deliver a donation to Hadassah Hospital’s albinism program.

The Electronic Intifada spoke with a man who identified himself as Coumba Makalou’s father, who answered a phone number associated with the listed address of the Salif Keita Global Foundation in the Washington, DC, area.

He said Makalou was traveling abroad and he did not have a phone number to contact her.

New tactic

Keita’s and Makalou’s statement is reminiscent of similar claims by the manager of Eric Burdon, former lead vocalist of The Animals.

Last month Marianna Burdon, who is Burdon’s wife and manager, announced he had canceled a visit to Israel due to “threats” to his life, but when challenged, provided no information to substantiate the claim.

Resort to unsupported claims of “threats” and potentially defamatory statements may be a tactic that some artists resort to when they do not wish to violate the Palestinian call to boycott Israel, but do not have the courage to take a political stance.

Burdon did in fact travel to Israel despite the supposed “threats.”

In response to the claims from Burdon’s manager, the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel issued a statement explaining campaign tactics and rejecting claims that any threats had been used.




As recent as this Monday, the Israeli promoter, Gil Ron Shama, still claimed Keita would play Israel, saying הוא בא הוא בא. Keita's cancellation is truly anti-apartheid! THANK you EI, for reporting on this important show of solidarity with Palestinian people.


Sad claim. Hopefully he will give details or else I will think this is just an attempt to placate Israel.

The claim about donation to albinism is odd; he doesn't have to do a gig in Apartheid Israel so that he can donate to a hospital.

He doesn't have to be personally at present to donate nor appear on a stage on a festival organized by ethnically cleansing municipality.


The trend of artists cancelling Israel shows and claiming it's due to "threats" appears to be an organized attempt to divert attention from Israel's crimes; if it continues, I hope the BDS movement will develop a strategy to counter it and to keep emphasizing the reasons for the cultural boycott.