Dibango, Manu (Soul Makossa Gang) (Cameroon)  
Manu Dibango © S.Gordon 2003

MANU DIBANGO was born in Douala, Cameroon in 1933. The son of a civil servant, he played flute and guitar from childhood, and at age 16, he was sent to complete his education in Paris, where he also studied classical piano.

In Paris, Dibango soon met up with other ex-patriot African musicians from what were then the French colonies, notable amongst these being musician, filmmaker and novelist Francis Bebey, a fellow Cameroonian who later headed UNESCO's music programme.

The young Dibango remained in Paris for seven years, before moving to Brussels in 1949, where he worked in the jazz club scene for 14 years. It was here, in 1953, that a friend lent him a saxophone. By 1957, Dibango decided to leave his studies, and soon teamed up with the group "African Jazz". With Independence being attained in many African countries in the early 1960's, Dibango returned to Africa: first to Zaire with African Jazz, and by 1963 was back in Yaounde, Cameroon, where he formed his own group and opened a nightclub.

The man's early travels laid the foundation for a career which would see Dibango and his music constantly weaving threads between continents and cultures, but the catalyst to big time international exposure came in 1971 - when he wrote and recorded the song Soul Makossa - the "B side" to a 7 inch single commissioned for Cameroon's Africa Cup football campaign.

In 1973 Soul Makossa took off in New York City, and remained on the Billboard charts for two months. The single sold close on 200 000 copies, earned a Grammy nomination, and is probably the biggest
bandleader, Saxophone, vocals, Vibraphone
Genre: African, African Jazz, jazz, fusion
selling African music single of all time. Success followed in Europe, and the international career of the "Makossa Man" was born.

Throughout the 70's, Dibango operated between Cameroon and France (Paris), and also performed in many other African countries including Nigeria and Zaire. Latin American tours followed, and in 1975, Dibango was involved in setting up the Ivory Coast National TV orchestra.

Dibango is acknowledged as one of Africa's most eclectic musicians. He is a multi instrumentalist, and an acclaimed musical arranger who has released well over 50 recordings to date, including soundtracks for several films.

He has always pushed new frontiers for African music, and works in an ever-widening range of musical genres. Thus there have been collaborations with legendary reggae rhythm section, Sly and Robbie, and high-tech productions such as his Electric Africa album. In 1986, he recorded a reworked "Big Blow" featuring inputs from long time associates such as Hugh Masekela, Bootsy Collins, Bernie Worrel and Herbie Hancock. The 1990's have witnessed collaborations in the Hip-hop genre, Latin and Big band projects (Fania All Stars and Don Cherry), and work with rappers such as MC Mello.

Manu Dibango and his "Soul Makossa Gang" made their first visit to South Africa in September 1993, and as part of his Re-connection Tour, performed in Soweto, Joburg, Durban and Cape Town. He also conducted music workshops for local students, jazz and hip hop artists.

Since 1993, the artist has visited South Africa and the SADC region several times - he performed at President Mbeki's Inauguration, also at the Robben Island Millennium event, as well as at several music festivals. In 2002 he featured together with Ray Lema at Joburg's Arts Alive and Zoo Lake. In 2006, Manu Dibango & The Soul Makossa Gang headlined at the Cape Town International Jazz Festival. Dibango's longstanding links with South Africa, its musicians and music always shine through when he performs to audiences in southern Africa.

- this biography (c) Steve Gordon 2004

Contact Details:

for southern Africa (SADC Region), contact Making Music
+27-21-422 0118

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