Salif was born on the 25th of August 1949. He is a direct descendant of the founder of the Mali Empire Sunjata Keita.
Salif was cast out by his family and ostracized by the community because of his albinism. His mother had to hide him from superstitious members of the community who sought to kill him.
He is the third born out of thirteen children. In 1970, Salif left for Bamako where he joined the state sponsored Rail Band de Bamako. Thus began the musical journey of now internationally acclaimed Afro-pop singer and songwriter who is also called the Golden Voice of Africa.