Kelefa T. Sanneh (born 1975) is an American journalist and music critic. From 2000 to 2008, he wrote for the New York Times, covering the rock 'n' roll, hip-hop, and pop music scenes. He now writes about culture for The New Yorker.
Sanneh was born in Birmingham, West Midlands, England, and spent his early years in Ghana and Scotland, before his family moved to Massachusetts in 1981, then to Connecticut in 1989. His father, Lamin Sanneh, was born in Janjanbureh, Gambia, and is now D. Willis James Professor of Missions and World Christianity and professor of history at Yale Divinity School. Kelefa's mother, Sandra, is a white South African linguist who teaches the isiZulu language at Yale.
Sanneh graduated from Harvard University in 1997 with a degree in literature. While at Harvard he worked for Transition Magazine and served as rock director for WHRB's Record Hospital. Sanneh played bass in the Harvard bands Hypertrophie Shitstraw, MOPAR, Fear of Reprisal and TacTic, as well as a Devo cover band that included members of Fat Day, Gerty Farish, Bishop Allen and Lavender Diamond. Sanneh's thesis paper, The Black Galactic: Toward A Greater African America, combined interests in music, literature and culture in writing about The Nation of Islam and the Sun Ra Arkestra as efforts to transcend oppression in the African-American experience with desires to travel into outer space.
Sanneh garnered considerable publicity for an article he wrote in the October 31, 2004, issue of The New York Times titled "The Rap against Rockism." The article brought to light to the general public a debate among American and British music critics about rockism, a term Sanneh defined inductively to mean "idolizing the authentic old legend (or underground hero) while mocking the latest pop star; lionizing punk while barely tolerating disco; loving the live show and hating the music video; extolling the growling performer while hating the lip-syncher." In the essay, Sanneh further asks music listeners to "stop pretending that serious rock songs will last forever, as if anything could, and that shiny pop songs are inherently disposable, as if that were necessarily a bad thing. Van Morrison's 'Into the Music' was released the same year as the Sugarhill Gang's 'Rapper's Delight'; which do you hear more often?"
Before covering music for the Times, he was the deputy editor of Transition, a journal of race and culture, based at the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research, at Harvard University. His writing has also appeared in The Source; Rolling Stone; Blender; the Village Voice; Man’s World (“India’s classiest men’s magazine”); “Da Capo Best Music Writing” in 2002, 2005, and 2007; and newspapers around the world.
Sanneh wrote the high-profile "Project Trinity," which appeared in The New Yorker's April 7, 2008, edition, to give context to the controversial comments of Reverend Jeremiah Wright, who was Barack Obama's pastor. The article provides a historical context of the Trinity United Church of Christ, Obama's church, and to Wright, the former pastor of Trinity.
- "Contributors: Kelefa Sanneh". The New Yorker. Retrieved 16 April 2009.
- Bonk, Jonathan J. (October 2003), The Defender of the Good News: Questioning Lamin Sanneh 47 (10)
- Micner, Tamara (October 6, 2006). "Zulu program clicks with small group of students". The Yale Herald. Archived from the original on November 29, 2006.
- "Welcome from the Director of Studies". Harvard University Department of Comparative Literature. Archived from the original on April 11, 2011.
- "Incipient Roadkill". The Harvard Crimson. March 24, 1994.
- "Lit Alumni". Department of Comparative Literature. Harvard University. Retrieved 15 March 2012.
- Sanneh, Kelefa. The black galactic: towards a greater African America. Harvard University. Retrieved 15 March 2012.
- The New York Times > Arts > Music > The Rap Against Rockism
- Koblin, John (March 4, 2008). "Kelefa Sanneh, Ariel Levy Join New Yorker". New York Observer. Retrieved April 11, 2011.
- Column archive at The New Yorker
- Column archive at The New York Times
- Kelefa Sanneh at the Internet Movie Database
- Works by or about Kelefa Sanneh in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
- Sanneh, Kelefa (24 November 2008). "On Television: Science Projects". The New Yorker 84 (38): 122–123. Retrieved 16 April 2009. Reviews "Fringe" and "The Mentalist".