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Manu Dibango.

10 Essential Manu Dibango Songs

A giant has fallen. We pay tribute to Manu Dibango by highlighting some of the best songs from the Cameroonian jazz legend's extensive discography.

Cameroonian jazz legend Manu Dibango passed away earlier today at a hospital just outside Paris, France. The 86-year-old musician had been in a state of recovery after having tested positive for the coronavirus.

A giant has fallen.

Dibango, who was born in Douala, Cameroon in 1933, became one of the foremost pioneers of Afro-jazz and was known for his fusion of funk with traditional Cameroonian sounds. His six-decade career saw him performing all over the world and collaborating with the likes of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Hugh Masekela, Fela Kuti and several other music heavyweights.

Following his 1972 hit song "Soul Makossa," Dibango serenaded audiences for years to come with his inimitable mastery of the saxophone. In many ways, Dibango was to Cameroonians (and the world over) what Masekela was to South Africans, what Fela was to Nigerians and what Oliver Mtukudzi was to Zimbabweans: legendary.

And so, while the world now mourns the loss of a legend, amid the uncertainty of an outbreak that continues to steal so much from humanity, we've selected just ten essential songs from Dibango's extensive discography to pay tribute to his indelible contribution to not only jazz, but music as a whole.



"Soul Makossa"

"Soul Makossa" was undoubtedly the career-defining song for Dibango. Released in 1972, the hit song inspired both Michael Jackson and Rihanna to reference the lyrics in "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" and "Please Don't Stop the Music" respectively—reportedly without Dibango's permission. Dibango went on to settle a lawsuit with the artists over their use of the track's hook.

"Emma" feat. Salif Keita

"Emma" is an upbeat and vibrant track that sees the meeting of legends. Dibango collaborated with veteran Malian musician Salif Keita to create a bold and vocally-rich classic that has remained a favorite among many fans till today.

"Ah! Freak Sans Fric"

Released in 1979, "Ah! Freak Sans Fric" has an undeniably nostalgic feel to it that transports the listener back to the 70s, a time where many people turned to music as a source of strength and hope especially after the colonial era which, for Cameroon, came to an end in 1972.

Biko feat. Alex Brown, Peter Gabriel, Ladysmith Black Mambazo & Geoffrey Oryema

While rock musician Peter Gabriel originally composed this song, it was Dibango's rendition featuring Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Geoffrey Oryema that was arguably more popular. The track is an anti-Apartheid song, and musical eulogy of sorts, that was inspired by the South African struggle hero, Steven Biko, following his death.

Echos Beti

"Echos Beti" is a quirky number that exemplifies Dibango's seamless fusion of Afro-jazz with elements of funk and traditional sounds with the consistent use of drums making the rhythm of the song infectious.

"Africadelik" 

"Africadelik" leans towards a more classic Afro-jazz feel and while originally released in 1973, certainly has a contemporary feel to it especially in Dibango's 2018 performance at the Jazzwoche Burghausen in Germany.

"Bao Bao"

In "Bao Bao", Dibango manages to achieve an exquisite balance of vocals, traditional sounds including the marimba as well as use of guitar, woodwind instruments and saxophone.

"Ekedi"

Released in 2006, "Ekedi" is a soulful and mellow track with a consistent mid-tempo rhythm that allows Dibango to showcase his mastery of the saxophone—a markedly simple yet powerful number.

"Wilderness"

Dibango ditches the vocals in this purely instrumental track and goes wandering in the wilderness. It's a contemplative piece, as most jazz numbers often are, that manages to do so in a lighthearted manner.

"Ngolowake"

"Ngolowake" makes for easy and enjoyable listening with almost lazy-sounding instrumentals which give the track an overall relaxed feel.

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Photo by Don Paulsen/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Hugh Masekela's New York City Legacy

A look back at the South African legend's time in New York City and his enduring presence in the Big Apple.

In Questlove's magnificent documentary, Summer of Soul, he captures a forgotten part of Black American music history. But in telling the tale of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, the longtime musician and first-time filmmaker also captures a part of lost South African music history too.

Among the line-up of blossoming all-stars who played the Harlem festival, from a 19-year-old Stevie Wonder to a transcendent Mavis Staples, was a young Hugh Masekela. 30 years old at the time, he was riding the wave of success that came from releasing Grazing in the Grass the year before. To watch Masekela in that moment on that stage is to see him at the height of his time in New York City — a firecracker musician who entertained his audiences as much as he educated them about the political situation in his home country of South Africa.

The legacy Masekela sowed in New York City during the 1960s remains in the walls of the venues where he played, and in the dust of those that are no longer standing. It's in the records he made in studios and jazz clubs, and on the Manhattan streets where he once posed with a giant stuffed zebra for an album cover. It's a legacy that still lives on in tangible form, too, in the Hugh Masekela Heritage Scholarship at the Manhattan School of Music.

The school is the place where Masekela received his education and met some of the people that would go on to be life-long bandmates and friends, from Larry Willis (who, as the story goes, Masekela convinced to give up opera for piano) to Morris Goldberg, Herbie Hancock and Stewart Levine, "his brother and musical compadre," as Mabusha Masekela, Bra Hugh's nephew says.

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