Socialist Worker

Manu DIBango 1933-2020

Issue No. 2698

Manu Dibango

Manu Dibango (Pic: Selbymay/Wikimedia commons)

Manu Dibango’s saxophone driven mix of jazz, funk and Cameroonian call and response verses helped put Africa at the centre of European pop in the early 1970s.

Born in the city of Douala in 1933, at 15 Manu was sent to Europe to study classical piano in Paris. But he was drawn to jazz, and he began playing saxophone in the early l950s.

By the late 1960s he was looking at ways of branching out and reaching new audiences.

In 1972, long before the term “world music” gained its unfortunate currency, Manu’s song Soul Makossa was tearing up dancefloors across the world.

It was a statement of confidence, an echo from post-independence Africa, and it connected to both black and white dancers.

And, as a hybrid form that mixed African and European styles, it laid down a challenge to notions of Western cultural superiority.

His stuttered sax lines answered chanted vocals and was close to the funk sound of black America, but with an identity all of its own.

Manu’s rhythms were a precursor to what would become known as disco and were soon incorporated by the New York DJs that were pioneering the scene.

Keen to use his new fame to advance African music, Manu toured with a mixture of established and up and coming artists, and created a thirst for music beyond boundaries.

When Bob Geldoff and his Band Aid pop star friends appointed themselves saviours of Africa, Manu was quick to smell a rat.

Why were no Africans in his celebrity line up? Why was the Live Aid concert so white, he asked.

To counter the problem Manu helped organise an all?Africa supergroup around the single Tam Tam Pour l’Ethiopie.

Manu’s brilliant career was itself a challenge to the racism of the music industry.

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Fri 27 Mar 2020, 17:57 GMT
Issue No. 2698
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