Born in Omaha, Nebraska in 1943, Calvin Keys' musical legacy began early with his father Otis Keys, a man who is still described as Omaha's greatest natural drummer. Early on in his own musical career Calvin auditioned and played guitar with such greats as Eddie Cleanhead Vinson and bassist Gerald Holts. At age 17, he first hit the road with sax player Little Walkin' Willie and then followed in his father's footsteps to Kansas City, where his first gigs were with Preston Love of the Count Basie Orchestra and The Frank Edwards Organ Trio. That foundation led to working with one of the greatest organ trios of all time‚ The Jimmy Smith Trio, and then on to working with several other organ greats: Jimmy McGriff, Jack McDuff, and Groove Holmes.
In 1969, Keys headed for Los Angeles. In 1971, he cut his first album, Shawn Neeq, on what was then Gene Russell's new highly acclaimed Blackjazz record label. Soon afterwards, he was hired to record and tour with Ray Charles. It was then that Calvin's career began blossoming in full swing as he toured Europe for the first time as the guitarist for Ray's Big Band.
In 1973, Blackjazz released his second solo album, Proceed With Caution. At this time, Calvin also began also using his newly given African name, Ajafika. Appearing on the album cover in an African robe and holding a spear, Calvin was in step with the African- American independence movement with a new identity and a raw roots musical direction. Shortly thereafter, Keys was called to work with legendary pianist Ahmad Jamal. Keys spent most of the next seven years recording six albums and performing with Ahmad.