A year ago: disappearance of Manu Dibango, the patriarch - Rolling Stone

A year ago: disappearance of Manu Dibango, the patriarch - Rolling Stone

The musician died a year ago, on March 24, 2020. Manu Dibango introduced African music to the whole world. Sax slung over his shoulder, a smile recognizable among a thousand, and above all a sound that will take him to the highest peaks of music. Tribute

I am infinitely sad to have lost my big brother, Manu Dibango, Papa Groove, giant of the music of the 20th century and beyond, immense musician and composer, who was about to back from a tour of Japan and New Caledonia, recording an album of balafon duets, before succumbing, in the early morning of March 24, to COVID-19.

"Papa - or Tonton - Manou", was the dean, the patriarch, the pioneer, of African music in the world, with his unstoppable look à la Isaac Hayes hairless: shaved head, dark glasses, tall, sax carried as an inverted trunk. The first black in Europe, the first African in America.

First in Belgium, where he performed, with his baccalaureate, in jazz clubs from 1956 (Le Tabou, les Anges noirs in Brussels, Moulin Rouge in Ostend, Scotch in Antwerp, le Chat noir in Charleroi), and where he meets a blonde artist, Marie-Josée, known as Coco, whom he marries, one of the first interracial couples; in Paris, from 1965, where he skimmed those of Saint-Germain (the Three mallets, the Bohemia, the Cat which fishes, the Chameleon, the Billboquet) and our pop variety (from Gérard Manset to Nino Ferrer of which he was the conductor, including Dick Rivers, Michel Fugain and even Mike Brant).

Dibango, the international

In the United States where "Soul Makossa" was a huge hit and a cultural phenomenon in 1972, before being plundered by Michael Jackson ("Wanna Be Startin' Something ”) then by Rihanna (“Don't Stop The Music”), sampled by Jennifer Lopez (“Feelin' So Good”) and Jay-Z (“Face Off”), quoted by the Fugees (“Cowboys” and “Freestyle ), Kanye West (“Lost in the World”), Will Smith (“Getting Jiggy With It”), Eminem (“Do Ray Me”), up to Beyoncé in her recent Homecoming Live; finally in London, where he became an icon of acid-jazz in the 80s with "Abele Dance", produced by Martin Meissonier, which we hear in the films Parole de flic and Less Than Zero, then with "Senga Abele playing with saxophonist Courtney Pine and guitarist Simon Booth of Working Week. It was on the basis of this observation that on July 14, 1992, at the Francofolies, I suggested that he record for Fnac Music

Wakafrika, a pan-African album confirming this senior status, featuring classics from the continent (“Lady” by Fela, “Pata Pata” by Miriam Makeba, “Jingo” by Babate Olatunji, “Hi-Life” by Wally Badarou, "Emma" of the Touré Kounda, "Wimoweh") or its derivatives ("Homeless", "Biko"), in the company of his heirs (Angélique, Youssou, Salif, Ray, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, King Sunny Adé, Geoffrey Oryema, Papa Wemba, Ray Phiri, Tony Allen, Bonga, etc.) and admirers from rock (Peter Gabriel, Sinéad O'Connor).

Some reluctance

He was reluctant at first: pan-Africanism, like Bob Marley (“Africa Unite” and the cover of Survival), is his dream, but he suffered from having it believed during his tribulations with powers, sorcerers and mafias, between Kinshasa, Douala, Yaoundé and Abidjan, where he conducted the Ivorian Radio-Tele-Diffusion Orchestra in the second half of the 1970s, yet still crowned with his triumph American at Atlantic, featured at Madison Square Garden, at the Apollo with the Temptations and at Yankee Stadium with the Fania All-Stars (Mongo Santamaria, Ray Barretto and Willie Colon, with Jan Hammer and Billy Cobham).

"How to dream of pan-Africanism where nations are still under the thumb of tribalism and where the colonial complex continues to put the white above the black? I was the victim of a tribalism and a living nationalism in places where there were also true prophets of a united and conquering Africa. I realize how much this pan-Africanism of combat, conceived abroad, by foreigners, or because of the common foreign enemy, could only be illusory,” he wrote in his fascinating Balade en saxo dans les behind the scenes of my life (L'Archipel, 2013), following the principle of conceptual decolonization of the Ghanaian philosopher Kwasi Wiredu.

Wakafrika lowers the curtain

A year ago: disappearance of Manu Dibango, the patriarch - Rolling Stone

Wakafrika's budget will be exhausted before it can integrate Paul Simon, and the earthquake of January 17, 1994, killing 72 people and injuring 8,700 while director George Acogny is mixing the album at Los Angeles, sounds the stop of its production. Gabriel wants to post it on Real World, but can't afford it. Suddenly, Wakafrika goes around the world at Giant, the label of the Eagles manager, Irving Azoff. It allows Manu to tour the United States for three months, to meet Aretha Franklin and to jam with Taj Mahal and James Brown, as he had done with Herbie Hancock and Bill Laswell for the Electricafrica album a few years earlier, and with Sly and Robbie in Kingston for the double Gone Clear.

I will continue the adventure at Mercury by plunging into the fonts where we have unearthed a number of exceptional recordings from the 60s and early 70s, exclusively intended for export to Africa, sometimes engraved directly on 78 rpm records for which he was paid in cash per session. I had to negotiate hard with London to retrospectively grant a royalty rate to an artist who did not have a contract! The resulting compilation, African Soul, The Very Best of Manu Dibango, was released worldwide, and features heartbreaking soulful funk music inspired by Stax, Motown and the JB's, where his sax playing rips as much as King Curtis'. or Junior Walker at the same time. Listen to "Dikalo", "HotChicken", "Soul Machine" or "Big Blow", if you doubt it. (It will be followed in 2004 by a more complete 3-CD longbox).

Manu would like to clarify: “I didn’t make music because I am African, but because I am a musician. I don't play djembe. A gift has no race. My world is Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Louis Armstrong, Hugh Masekela and my Africa in my head. “Born French in Douala, he opted for Cameroonian nationality, seduced by the immense classic rumba lingala of Grand Kallé (Joseph Kabasélé) whose African Jazz in Kinshasa he joined, “Indépendance cha cha”. Together, they will invent urban African music. It was there in Zaire, where he ran various nightclubs, that Manu experienced his first personal hit in 1962, "Twist à Léo (poldville)", the first African rock.

He had arrived in France at the age of fifteen by boat from Cameroon as a high school student in 1949, staying with a family of teachers from Saint-Calais in the Sarthe in exchange for a pension and three kilos of coffee, title that he will give his first autobiography (Lieu Commun, 1989). His compatriot Francis Bebey introduced him to the jazz of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, which gave him a taste for conducting orchestras. It's that Manu Dibango, we don't realize it enough in France where he became one of the symbols of the Mitterrand years, but where he is easily reduced to his pioneering television shows (Pulsations, Salut Manu!) and where he is essential because of his bursting laughter and his legendary good humor as an African counterpart to Henri Salvador, is a colossus of 20th century music.

From Cameroon to France

Composer, conductor, talent scout, multi-instrumentalist (sax, organ, piano, vibraphone, marimba, mandolin, balafon), moving from soul to jazz like gospel to the Protestant songs of his childhood, from funk to French song, with an inimitable sound and timbre, both vocal and musical. Known for his humor too, as when he recorded his version – instrumental – of Nino Ferrer’s “I want to be Black” manifesto. For which he retained a deep affection, conscious of precisely embodying his fantasy of musical ethnicity, "African in the absence of being African-American".

“He was a real singer, with guts, with an extraordinary tone. We musicians respected him, which is not always the case with singers, who are stars as much as music. We had fun with him, he was not a fake singer. A real Italian, with a voice that tears. Also a brawler. One evening in Bastia, where he wanted to be paid in cash and not by check, I almost got knocked down to protect him. He mostly broke guitars. Much more often than Pete Townshend according to Manu, who inspires him with "Mamadou Mémé" and, moving from organ to sax, conducts his Sharks, which he makes the hexagonal Booker T. and the MG's.

The Soul Makossa Gang

Following the example of John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, Frank Zappa's Mothers or Miles Davis' bands, he never ceased to make his Soul Makossa Gang a formidable school of musicians: Vincent Nguini (guitar), Armand Sabal-Lecco (bass) and his brother Félix (drums) will become the pillars of Paul Simon's group, Jean-Claude Naimro de Kassav', his chorister Charlotte Dipanda the Cameroonian singer number one, Francis M'Bappé, recently the prodigy Abidjan bassist Manou Gallo, etc.

“Mamassé, Mamassa, Mama Makossa, it don't makes sense, but admit it, it's kinda hot” raps Charles Hamilton on those "Brooklyn Girls". Like Roger Daltrey's stutter on "My g-g-generation", like the rockabilly hiccups (translated into "ah que" by Johnny by the Guignols), like "Be-Bop-A-Lula", like the "Awopbopaloobop-Alopbamboom » founder of Little Richard in « Tutti Frutti », the Javanese that Manu introduces in the makossa of Douala, is lettrism, which goes beyond sensations and ideas to express the unspeakable, intimate and universal.

"The First African musician is coming" announced the US billboards of the 70s. Manu Dibango did more than embody the pan-Africanism whose snakes almost killed him: he launched the African renaissance like his jazz idols had made the Afro-American half a century earlier in Harlem. On October 17, he gave his Symphonic Safari at the Grand Rex, accompanied by the Lamoureux Orchestra, where African music, jazz and classical music were mixing.

Everything but world: “I can't put a label on this music. It is neither African nor Western, it is music, mine. I'm not trying to prove anything. Unfortunately, people want to generalize. You must be black or white. You can't just be. I consider myself a hybrid. I integrate different codes, and I don't feel guilty about anything: my music is the story of my life and I am frankly happy to have been able to do it under these conditions at the Grand Rex and to have had an echo . »

Hi Manu, I am proud to have known you and to have accompanied you. We won't make them like you anymore. “We are together”, as you said. For all time.

Yves Bigot