Senegal's Death-Defying Albino Musician

Why you should care

Because albinos across Africa still face discrimination and violence in the extreme.

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Meet Maah Keita, a 29-year-old musician who’s been using her music since she was old enough to play music to raise awareness about the struggles that people with albinism face both in Senegal and across Africa. One of those struggles common to many albinos? Visual impairment. Which had Keita, an autodidact, learning to play the bass guitar without being able to see very much of the bass guitar she was playing.

Which slowed her roll not at all and saw Keita and her brothers starting a band, Takeifa, that in short order moved from killing it in Senegal to touring internationally, opening for a who’s who of musical genius that’s included Tiken Jah Fakoly, Alpha Blondy, Femi Kuti, Daara J and Public Enemy. Top that with Senegalese singing superstar Baaba Maal guesting on Takeifa’s recent song Ndanane and you’ve got a solid musical win on your hands.

In 2012, Keita co-founded the Care Albinos association with her brothers with the aim of providing health resources, skin care products and psychological support to albinos in Senegal, many of whom suffer from cancer. The organization also leads campaigns to raise awareness about albinism in Senegalese society more broadly.

For years, nobody spoke of albinism here in Senegal. It was a taboo subject.

Maah Keita

Albinos in Senegal and across Africa are constant victims of discrimination and violence. Attacks often include mutilations, rape, abductions and even murder, with families often complicit in the violence. In many countries in Africa, albino body parts are used by witch doctors for their supposed powers, or, conversely, albinos are shunned or killed for being “cursed.” Since 2006, there have been several hundred killings and other human rights violations against people with albinism, according to the nonprofit Under the Same Sun, which conducts charity work and advocacy for albinos.

“For years, nobody spoke of albinism here in Senegal. It was a taboo subject,” Keita says. “There’s not really been a positive discourse with respect to albinism, and that’s what albinos need.”

So far, Keita’s Care Albinos organization has helped more than 5,000 persons with albinism and has partnered with the United Nations and the Open Society Foundation, all while tearing up stages and studios with Takeifa’s twisting take on Wolof vocals, rock and hip-hop. Which is your cue to listen and learn.

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