Aug 1, 2009

Manu Dibango - Makossa Man


Emmanuel N'Djoké Dibango was born on December 12, 1933 in Douala, Cameroon. His father was from the Yabassi tribe, his mother Douala. This double heritage is important in a country which lives according to ancestral traditions. At home, young Manu spoke Douala, mostly. His father was a civil servant, and his moral standards were an example for his son. Religion was no doubt the reason, for the Dibangos were protestants. Manu went to the temple in the evening and his mother was in charge of the choir.

School was in the village and then he went to "the white man's school". This is where he learnt French. Once he had passed his primary school leaving certificate, his father sent him to Saint-Calais to boarding school. In Spring 1949, young Manu sailed for Marseilles. The family who was to look after him lived in the Sarthe region in the west of France. In 1950, he went to high school in Chartres, a little further south. He made friends with a few Africans, usually from good families, and was happy there, the atmosphere suiting him better than boarding school.

He started music, first the mandoline and then piano.

During holidays in a camp for Cameroon children living in France, he met Francis Bebey, slightly older than he, a jazz fan. Armstrong and Sidney Bechet were, to him, the emblems of black American jazz. The two lads set up a group in which each played his favourite instrument.

This was the time he discovered the saxophone, too. He started taking lessons.

Music was his hobby but he never thought of earning a living from it. Thus, he took his first Baccalauréat in Reims, where he attended yet another school. The following school year was marked by his weekend job in a local night club, the Monaco. Although he intended to do business school later, he failed his second Baccalauréat in 1956, and his father cut off his allowance.

At the end of 1956, he decided to try Brussels. Through a friend, he was hired at the Tabou, a fashionable club in the Belgian capital. He met a mannequin, Coco, who was later to become his wife. Unfortunately, after a quarrel with the owner of the Tabou, he lost his job. A few weeks later, he was offered a tour of the American bases in Europe, with an orchestra. After playing the Moulin Rouge at Ostend and the Scotch in Antwerp, he signed a two year contract with the Chat Noir, in Charleroi.

In 1960, he was hired by a Brussels night-club, Les Anges Noirs, which was very popular with politicians and intellectuals from Zaïre. At that time the town was buzzing with the independence negotiations and was full of influential people.

In this atmosphere, Manu Dibango, leader of the Anges Noirs group, was playing around with real African music. Until then, he had played mostly music for westerners, cha-cha, tango, assorted varieties etc. The first music to be tried out was from the Congo, and was already well developed. It was his meeting with the great Joseph Kabasélé and African Jazz that was to trigger his music and open the doors of a world he had forgotten. After several years of exile in Europe, Manu Dibango had become a jazz-nourished musician. He rediscovered the sound of the African continent with Kabasélé, who hired him as saxophonist in his orchestra. They recorded some 40 pieces in a Brussels studio together for two weeks. Their records were well-received in Africa, and they were very successful.

With this recording success under his belt, Manu now wished to record solo. "African soul", a mixture of jazz, rumba and Latino rhythm. But even if the result was worth listening to, he did not find a producer.


After this blow, Kabasélé (again!) gave him a second chance. He offered him a place on the African Jazz tour of Zaïre in August 1961. Manu Dibango accepted and flew to Kinshasa with his wife. Once the contract was completed, the couple took over the management of l'Afro-Negro, a club which rapidly became successful. Two years later, Manu decided to open his own club, the Tam Tam. He led the orchestra and they played his compositions. With no contract, he was able to play with whom he chose, thus extending his network of acquaintances. In early 62, he started the fashion for the twist in Kinshasa with "Twist à Léo", a huge success.

After a long lost reunion with his parents and on his father's insistence, Manu decided to go and set up business in Cameroon. In late January 1993, he started up a club in Douala, also called the Tam Tam. For six months Manu and Coco, his wife withstood police harassment, jealousy and financial difficulty. Finally, they packed up and after a short passage in Yaoundé, returned to Paris, tired of African adventures.

Manu Dibango then started all over again, with no money. He needed more jobs in music. After one in the casino at Saint-Cast, Brittany, at the end of 65, he returned to Paris and jobs. First he was hired by the Dick Rivers orchestra, belonging to the big sixties star, then he moved to Nino Ferrer's, where he played the Hammond organ. When Nino Ferrer discovered he was an excellent saxophonist, he made him play that, and later he led the orchestra. The tours began to accumulate and Manu found his musical soul once more.

Soul Makossa

In early 69, he left the singer and signed his first recording contract with Tutti. In autumn he brought out "Saxy Party" with Philips. This album contains remakes and personal compositions. The sound is deliberately jazzy, underlined by the work of an American producer. This recording début only received critical acclaim. Rolande Lecouviour of Decca then contacted him and offered him a second album. He accepted with alacrity and this nameless disc put Manu onto the African, more particularly Cameroon, tracks. It is more for dancing, and evokes aspects of society. His African success delighted Manu, who then began to travel back and forth to Africa.

For the eighth African Nations Cup, the great football event in Yaoundé in 1972, Manu composed a hymn, the other side of which became the biggest African hit of all time, "Soul Makossa".

While at first, neither Yaoundé or Paris seemed to appreciate this piece, a few Americans who were visiting Decca took the single and played it on their radios. It was even ranked in some American charts. But there was such a gulf between America and Europe that only Rolande Lecouviour seemed to believe in Manu's lucky star, and had him record the "O boso" album, which again contained the track (later plagiarised by Michael Jackson). Faced with this American success, Decca contacted Atlantic and arranged a one month tour in the States, with ten days at the famous Appollo in Harlem. This was in 1973. If America had seemed a dream for Manu and his musicians, it was to become reality in the space of a few days. He was already well known and his success was enormous. Black Americans saw in his music the expression of their origins.

The French media at last began to understand that this difficult to place instrumentalist was a talented artist, and he triumphed at the Olympia in Paris at the end of 1973.

He then embarked on a big tour of the US with the Fania All Stars, a large "family" of Latino musicians and singers.


Although his travels took him mostly to Paris, New York or Yaoundé, it was in Abidjan that he settled down in 1975. He was asked to lead the new orchestra on Ivory Coast radio and television. He remained there for four years.

Just after he finished recording "Manu 76", his father died in Douala, on January 13th. A few months later, his mother also died, while he was in Abidjan. It was around this time that he and Coco, his wife, adopted little Georgia, the daughter of the musician's cousin.

In 1978, he recorded "Home Made", with musicians from Ghana and Nigeria. His contacts with the latter multiplied with his trips to and from Lagos. Manu also met Fela, the king of Afrobeat. The success of this album made Manu famous in Nigeria, and brought him a show in the Olympia in Paris, followed by Jamaica.

He then recorded a new album, "Gone Clear", with the participation of the famous Robbie Shakespeare and Sly Dunbar. The meeting of Africa and Jamaica inspired Manu, who, after his rich but stressful period with ORTI, seemed to need to rest and recoup.

On his return to Paris in October 1979, Manu Dibango settled in a flat near the Père Lachaise cemetery. But he was homesick and was soon travelling constantly to Cameroon. At the end of 1981, he set up a new club in Douala, but, as he admitted himself, he has no head for business and was obliged to close after six months.

Abele Dance

In 82, a new album, "Waka Juju" came out, which was a return to "Afrosound". On it were titles such as "Douala Serenade" or "Ma Marie". But Manu's great experience made him alert to all the interesting new musical trends, and in 1984 "Abele Dance" came onto the scene, produced by Martin Messonnier. Of astonishing modernity, this title was a terrific hit in Europe, Africa and New York, and was closely followed by "Surtention". One year later, he recorded a new album, "Electric Africa" in Paris, with help from some great jazz musicians, amongst whom were Bill Laswell, Bernie Worrel and above all, the great Herbie Hancock. In his efforts to build bridges between different musical trends, he often pops up where he is not expected.

The man whom many consider to be the precursor of "modern" African music was awarded the Medaille des Arts et des Lettres by the French Minister of Culture, Jack Lang, on March 14 1986. This distinction was a flattering recognition of his career, which made him very proud.

His interest for his continent of birth did not lessen with the years. In 1985, he wrote arrangements for the best African musicians who played in Paris in 85, in aid of Tam Tam for Ethiopia.

His recording career continued steadily and in 1986, he brought out a new record, "Afrijazzy". The dark continent is a never-ending source of inspiration, but so is jazz. The record is reminiscent of "Waka Juju and also calls upon a great family of musicians, among whom Ray Lema, Hugh Masekela, Paco Sery, Michel Alibo, Paul Personne and others. On December 10th, Manu presented his new work at the New Morning, a famous Paris jazz club, before an audience of aficionados.


On July 12th 1988, The Festival des Francofolies at La Rochelle organised a concert entitled "La Fête à Manu". He was joined on stage by his guests, Le Forestier, Paul Personne, his former boss Nino Ferrer, Nzongo Soul and Zao from the Congo, and his countrymen the Têtes Brûlées. The magic worked and all the artists present did him proud. In December, a live double album of this concert was brought out, called "Happy Reunion".

The following decade brought many projects, many of which soon became reality. In 1990, "Trois kilos de café", his autobiography, was published, written with Danielle Rouard of Le Monde, and cast light upon his early career on the French-African musical scene, which, although difficult, taught him much. He also published the first volume of "Négropolitaines", an album of improvements and remakes of music such as "Indépendance cha-cha" by the great Kallé, and "Pata Pata" by Myriam Makeba. Manu's fluid saxophone playing brings life back into these classics.

Yet again demonstrating his capacity to adapt to every musical trend, this great African saxophonist brought out an original album entitled "Polysonic". Without losing sight of his roots, he weaves musical spells out of a mixture of sounds combining jazz, rap and traditional music. At nearly 60, his breadth of vision opened all sorts of music to him.

His tour at the famous Olympia theatre in Paris in 91, followed by the Festival du Printemps de Bourges, gave him the opportunity to publish the "Live 91" album. Then, following a number of stage appearances in France and elsewhere, he found himself in the television studios, preparing an autumn series of musical programmes on the third French channel entitled "Salut Manu". Delighted to explore this new medium, the musician took the opportunity to launch new talents, since he knew that for many he served as a reference in the business.


In 1993, he was awarded the "Victoire" prize for the best album of instrumental varieties in 92 (France) for the second volume of "Négropolitaines".

On his sixtieth birthday, Manu brought out "Wakafrica, ou l'Afrique en route". This was an ambitious plan to unite African music. Manu proposed to re-visit his song heritage, inviting Youssou N'dour, King Sunny Ade, Salif Keita, Angélique Kidjo, Ray Léma and a few others. They then made a series of concerts at the Casino de Paris in May.

Indefatigable seems to be the best adjective for this Cameroon Godfather. In 1996, he brought out another album, "Lamastabastani". The sudden death of his wife in 1995 inspired nostalgic music. His saxophone, which is so brilliant, breathes life into gospel and rhythm'n blues, with new talents such as bass player Willy N'for, the singer Charlotte M'bango and the percussionist Brice Wassy backing him. His childhood memories of when his mother directed the choir are coming back to the surface, too.

Since the start of his career, Manu has always been able to impose his style while dipping into all the musical trends that interested him. "African Soul, the Very Best Of" came out in March 97. "Makossa Man", as some have called him since 1972, gives us a selection of his most famous works.

One of the highlights of Manu's career in 1998 was when he organised "Soirs au village" (a vibrant festival of African music) in the French village of Saint-Calais. By the second edition of the festival (in August '99), "Soirs au village" had attracted a strong following of fans. One of the main reasons behind the festival's success was its laid-back family atmosphere. Visiting singers and musicians were welcomed like long-lost friends and the mix of African and local acts certainly proved a big hit with audiences in Saint-Calais.

New Generation

Released in April 2000, Manu's new album "Mboa'su" features a host of young up-and-coming artists as well as established musicians such as Gino Sitson and Mario Canonge. The album title (which means "At Home") reflects Manu's current state of mind. In his career, spanning four decades now, the sax star has come to feel at home in many different countries, but at this stage of his career he also feels the need to look back on his African roots. At the beginning of the new millennium Manu received the ultimate accolade in his homeland, being voted Cameroonian of the Century together with football star Roger Milla. Following this honour, Manu returned to Cameroon after many long years of absence and received a rapturous reception from fans when he performed at the "Rencontres Musicales" in Yaoundé in May.

The following year on March 13th, Dibango gave a special concert in Paris on the mythical Olympia stage. He was backed up by the London Community Gospel Choir, conducted by Reverend Bazil Meade, along with many other prestigious guests, such as the Cameroonian blues singer, Douleur, the Congolese crooner, Werrason, Kali, and Pablo Master.

A few weeks later the artist released a new album entitled "Kamer feeling" featuring, as backup, the singers Ruth Kotto, Koko Ateba and Pablo Master and the piano players Omar Sosa and Mario Canonge. This new opus fused reggae and rap with powerful Cameroonian rhythms. While remaining in the tradition of Swing jazz, this vibrant album should certainly appeal to a mainstream public.

Manu blasted back into the French music news in May 2002 with a new compilation entitled "B Sides". Reworking a selection of tracks originally recorded between 1971 and 1983, Dibango introduced various new instruments into his early work, experimenting with the marimba and the xylophone. One of the highlights of this new compilation was a vibrant remix of "Soul fiesta" produced in collaboration with French electro maestro DJ Gilb'R. Dibango hit the road again in the spring of 2002, performing a series of concerts where he mixed his sax-playing with marimba and xylophone. This mini-tour included two concerts at the Café de la Danse in Paris on 18 and 19 April.

Manu, who defines himself as an Afro-European, has become one of the main influences of cross-cultural creation in the French-speaking musical landscape.

2003: 30 years of "Soul Makossa"

2003 was a landmark year in Manu Dibango's career, being both the year he turned 70 and the year he celebrated the 30th anniversary of "Soul Makossa." Manu, as active as ever on the music front, teamed up with another African star, Ray Lema, and the pair began cooking up an innovative new sound they dubbed "Bantou Beat" (a jazz-groove fusion of central African sounds). On 14 March 2003, Manu returned to his native city, Douala. His concert there was a major event, his last performance in his birthplace having been 27 years before. The Cameroonian star took to the stage at a new venue, La Pêche, invited by an organisation known as the "Rencontres internationales des musiques du sud", and gave a memorable performance with Macase (a group produced by his son, Michel).

Prior to this triumphant return home, Manu had taken to the stage at Midem, the international record fair held on 20 January in Cannes, for the first live performance with "Gaïa World Event." The brainchild of Nantes-based musician Alan Simon, "Gaïa World Event" brought together a host of international stars committed to saving the planet and highlighting environmental issues. Manu joined the likes of Roger Hogson (Supertramp), Zucchero, Midnight Oil, Jane Birkin, Angunn and Cesaria Evora on a collective "Gaïa" album released on 21 March 2003.

The night before the "Gaïa" release, Manu had taken to the stage to play the first French date of the new show he had created with Ray Lema. The pair took their vibrant "Bantou Beat" to the legendary New Morning, in Paris, playing two sell-out concerts there.

2004 proved to be another busy year for Manu. In May 2004, he was named as Unesco's Peace Artist of the Year. Unesco's director general, Koichiro Matsuura, declared that the honour was "in recognition of the exceptional contribution he has made to the development of the arts, to peace and to dialogue between the world's different cultures." Manu took to the stage at Unesco's Paris headquarters on 27 May, performing a special concert at the nomination ceremony, just before Unesco inaugurated their series of "African Days."

In October of that year, Manu brought down the house when he played at London's Barbican Centre with a group of thirteen musicians (which included the brass section from the "Orchestre de la Lune" conducted by Jonathan Handelsman). The 3,000-strong audience present that night gave him a rousing reception.

Continuing his interest in projects based on the idea of cultural exchange, Manu took to the stage again in January 2005, playing at Bercy stadium, in Paris, with the Orchestre de Paris, conducted by Laurent Petitgirard.

A few months later, inspired by his London experience, Manu got together a new group, the Maraboutik Big Band, and performed at Le New Morning, in Paris, giving three concerts on 11 March, 1 April and 12 May. Drawing on his own repertoire throughout the shows, he also covered a series of jazz classics, reworking them in his own inimitable funk and makossa style.

In December 2005, "Kirikou et les bêtes sauvages", the new animated film by French director Michel Ocelot, triumphed at the box-office. Manu was responsible for the majority of the film's stirring soundtrack.

In September 2006, Manu was back in the music news with "Manu Dibango et le Soul Makossa Gang", a DVD which captured his vibrant on-stage performance at the "Uriage en Voix" festival in 2005.

On 19 December 2006, the Cameroonian sax star was back on stage again at Le Petit Journal Montparnasse, in Paris, with his Maraboutik Big Band for a special birthday show entitled "Bon anniversaire Mr Manu!"

2007: "Manu Dibango plays Sydney Bechet"

In his teenage years, black American jazz icons such as Louis Armstrong and Sydney Bechet had been a powerful motivating force in Manu's life. And in March 2007, the Cameroonian musician paid his own tribute to Bechet, the renowned composer and musician from New Orleans, with a pure jazz opus entitled "Manu Dibango joue Sydney Bechet."



1. Weya 6:01
2. Tom Tom 4:57
3. Mwassa Makossa 6:10
4. Essimo 6:05
5. Lakisane 4:35
6. Senga 5:32
7. Soul Fiesta 2:13
8. Africadelic 2:16
9. The Painter 2:28
10. African Battle 3:07
11. Black Beauty 2:51
12. African Carnaval 3:17
13. Moving Waves 4:05
14. Afro-Soul 2:45
15. Oriental Sunset 1:48
16. Monkey Beat 2:45
17. Wa-Wa 3:07
18. Percussion Storm 1:52

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