Manu Dibango, Soulful Ambassador of African Music, Dies at 86


When he started performing in cabarets and jazz clubs in 1956, his family cut off his allowance. In Belgium, he began working with musicians from the Belgian Congo (which would be renamed Zaire after gaining independence in 1960 and then the Democratic Republic of Congo). He worked with African Jazz, the group led by Le Grand Kalle (Joseph Kabasele), in Leopoldville (later renamed Kinshasa) in the early 1960s before returning to France. By the late 1960s he was leading his own band in Paris.

“Soul Makossa” was originally the B-side of a single celebrating Cameroon’s national soccer team. According to “Turn the Beat Around: The Secret History of Disco” (2005), by Peter Shapiro, the New York City disc jockey David Mancuso found a copy in a West Indian record store and played it at the Loft, a pioneering disco space, and the influential radio host Frankie Crocker put the song in heavy rotation on WBLS. Soon there were more than a dozen cover versions, as the imported original disc sold out. Atlantic Records licensed Mr. Dibango’s original, which reached the American pop Top 40 in 1973.

The song opened a worldwide touring and recording circuit for Mr. Dibango. He collaborated widely: with the reggae producers Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare in Jamaica, with Serge Gainsbourg in Paris, with the bassist and producer Bill Laswell in the group Deadline in the United States. In 1992 he recorded “Wakafrica,” an album of African hits with guest appearances by King Sunny Ade, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Salif Keita, Papa Wemba, N’dour, Ms. Kidjo and others.

Information on survivors was not immediately available.

Mr. Dibango’s extensive catalog includes film scores, jazz standards, reggae, pop and hip-hop. In 2017 he released “M & M,” a collaboration with a jazz saxophonist from Mozambique, Moreira Chonquiça, and in 2018 he released “Cubafrica,” a collaboration with the Cuban group Cuarteto Patria. Many of his other albums fused jazz, funk, African instruments, and dance beats — electronic or hand-played — behind his terse melodic lines.

“Sound is a magma. You have to give it a form. It’s never the same,” Mr. Dibango said in a 1991 interview with UNESCO Courier magazine. “In music there is neither past nor future, only the present. I must compose the music of my time, not yesterday’s music.”



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