Dibango, from Cameroon, is best remembered for his 1972 hit Soul Makossa – a song Michael Jackson stole from twice; a tune that arrived in time for disco and seemed to exist then and now in its own space and time. An infectious, driving, soul-filled jazz-funk-disco groove.
I found out about Manu Dibango in a roundabout way; I remember seeing the album cover to his Wakafrika record and wanting to know the music purely because of that cool album cover.
It would be a few years before I’d get around to buying the album and hearing the magical music but I did find a copy of Dibango’s autobiography Three Kilos of Coffee in a bookstore chuck-out bin and I read it, without really knowing his music. It turned me onto the sound. And I bought several compilations, a live album and the Wakafrika CD as a result of the book.
It’s a slim volume and I recommend it – one of my favourite reads; particularly the chain of events it created for me, discovering a favourite new artist as a result of reading his story. The title refers to what he had with him when he left home. His parents didn’t want him to know hardship so he was sent to France from his home country with three kilos of coffee. That was what he had as a barter-currency. With that he made his way in the world.
A struggling, uninterested student, he failed his exams but succeeded in playing nightclub jazz as a teenager. From there it was to several worlds of music as a prolific performer and recording artist.
His death will be getting a lot of coverage due to Coronavirus. But maybe through that coverage some people will take a chance on his music. I include below a link to one of my favourite catch-all compilations that gives you enough of a taste to get you started.
R.I.P. Manu Dibango
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