Manu Dibango Biography

12 December 1933, Douala, Cameroon. Sent to France to complete his education in 1949, Dibango lived in Paris until 1956. By now a proficient saxophonist and classically trained pianist, he then moved to Brussels, Belgium. In Brussels, he played regularly at the Black Angels Club, developing his fusion of jazz and Cameroonian makossa music. In 1960, he joined the band led by the father of modern Zairean music, Joseph Kabasele, then toured Europe with African Jazz. Returning to Zaire with Kabasele, he stayed with African Jazz until 1963, when he returned to Cameroon and formed his own band. In 1965, just as the soul music explosion was hitting Europe, Dibango returned to Paris, where he supported himself as a studio musician, also backing up visiting black American and African musicians.

Dibango recorded his first album, Manu Dibango, in 1968, followed by O Boso (1971) and Soma Loba (1972). Informed by jazz and R&B, all three albums were essentially in the same urgent - at times fantastically raucous - makossa mould, which Dibango successfully introduced to the international marketplace. The beginnings of his big-time international breakthrough, however, came in 1971, during a brief visit to Cameroon. President Ahidjo commissioned Dibango to write a patriotic song for the Africa Cup football match to be played in Douala, and on the b-side Dibango recorded a throwaway instrumental titled ‘Soul Makossa’. It took two years for the ‘Soul Makossa’ seed to sprout, but when it did, it grew fast. In 1973, New York radio disc jockey Frankie Crocker played the track on station WLIB and unleashed a tidal wave of makossa fever in the city. A total of 30, 000 import copies were sold within a week, and 23 cover versions recorded within a month. Atlantic Records then bought the USA rights and shipped an initial 150, 000 copies over from France, to tide them over until they could get their own pressings into the shops. Dibango went on to win a Gold Disc for USA sales of the record, and was nominated for the annual Grammy Award for the Best R&B Instrumental Performance Of The Year. Similar success stories occurred all over Europe and Africa. In the 90s Dibango won a legal suit against Michael Jackson for his use of ‘Soul Makossa’ on ‘Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’’, included on one of the 80s biggest selling albums, Thriller.

For the rest of the 70s, Dibango divided his time between Paris and Douala, having further singles successes with ‘Big Blow’ and ‘Sun Explosion’ and recording a string of superb albums for a variety of labels - most notably Super Kumba, Ceddo, Afrovision, Big Blow and A L’Olympia. Signed to the UK label Island Records in 1980, he recorded two reggae-infused albums, Ambassador and Gone Clear, featuring the leading Jamaican rhythm team of Sly And Robbie. In 1983, Dibango recorded the live album Deliverance, the strings-accompanied Sweet And Soft, and two solo piano albums, Melodies Africaines Volumes 1 & 2, before collaborating with French producer Martin Meissonnier on the single, ‘Abele Dance’. The avant funk/African collisions explored on this single were further developed on the Bill Laswell -produced albums Deadline and Electric Africa.

Late in 1986, Dibango returned to the studio to record Afrijazzy, which included a Laswell-produced remake of ‘Soul Makossa’. Dibango’s autobiography, Trois Kilos De Cafe, written with D. Rouard, was published in France in 1990. The same year he released an album of re-recorded hits from his pan-African back catalogue, including ‘Pata Pata’, ‘Independence Cha Cha’ and ‘Merengue Scoubidou’, also under the title Trois Kilos De Cafe. The following year he returned to the studio with Working Week producer Simon Booth for Polysonik, in tandem with international touring commitments. An autobiographical film, Silences, and further studio records followed during the remainder of the decade.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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