Yeah, Habib Koite is amazing. I actually used to see him play in Bamako at a little club where us Peace Corps volunteers hung out. He is a very nice guy.
In Mali, where Salif is from and where I had lived and/or worked for 10 years they really like the old Salif standard....the track "Manjou" from Salif's album "Folon" (the First or "Before all") Now in the states its really hard to find the original Manjou from either the 60s or early 70s...it wasn't that well recorded, but there is a soul there i can't find in the version he's done since including the standard "Folon" album available here. The reproductions of it usually are so embellished with treacly strings and electronica that I don't love them. It's the original that is special.
The story behind that track is that it is a song to Sekou Toure of Guinea who, along with Nkrumah of Ghana and Modibo Keita of Mali were some of the first to argue and obtain freedom from the French. Toure and later became a repressive dictator but this song was in the time where there was still a hope in the air that Africa would obtain the glorious destiny promised. Manjou is basically a song is in the old griot style where Salif is recounting the exploits and victories of the an old King "Manjou" and clearly comparing him to Sekou Toure who is the modern heroic equivilent. The story goes that,upon hearing it, Sekou Toure was moved to grant Salif Guinean citizenship and made him an honorary ambassador of Guinea (Salif is Malian). Toure also declared (the legend goes) that no one by Salif was to sing the song unless they could top Salif's version....upon pain of death! Not sure if that last part is true..but it's interesting to note that no one ever reproduced the song but Salif Keita!
Anyway, it's worth trying to get a copy of the old version of "Folon" if just for that particular track--for it is an essential part of the soundtrack to the African independance movement (like perhaps early Fela and Sunny Ade).