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Pan-African JAM: Manu Dibango – Past, Present & Future
May 23 @ 11:00 am - 2:00 pm
This month’s event is dedicated to the human force known as Manu Dibango, whose composition “Panafrican Jam” was the inspiration for our musical journey party series.
The Avalon event has been cancelled, for obvious reasons, but please tune in tomorrow (Sunday), March 29th at 1pm (EST), for an extended 3-hour broadcast of “Music for the Masses” weekly radio show, featuring a tribute to the man and his music.
Details at https://www.facebook.com/events/547534169331194/
Tribute to Pan-African Jazz Legend MANU DIBANGO
(12 December 1933 – 24 March 2020)
Notes by DJ Neva Wartell
The most widely known musician from the West African nation of Cameroon, Manu Dibango was one of the most outstanding musical personalities of the last 60 years. Known mostly as a saxophonist and vibraphonist, he was equally proficient on numerous other instruments. A prolific composer, producer, performer, conductor and humanitarian, Dibango is popularly thought to be the first to inject western popular music with a distinctly African sound. A proponent of “world jazz” since before such a term was even coined, he remained too humble to claim credit as a jazz musician, and used the term “Afro-music” to describe his joyful blend of the genre with funk and soul, African rhythms such as makossa, rumba-soukous, highlife and afrobeat, Caribbean beats of reggae and salsa, hip hop, electronic music and more.
Born in Douala, Cameroon in 1933, Emmanuel N’Djoké (Manu) Dibango was sent by his parents to France at the age of 15 to complete his education. There the Cameroonian musicologist Francis Bebey introduced him to the music of Sidney Bechet, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and other American jazz and blues greats of the era. By the time he was 18, in the early 1950s, Dibango was playing piano and saxophone in the local clubs, covering dance tunes and standards of the day.
In 1956 he got a gig in Belgium, where he met Congolese bandleader Grand Kallé (Joseph Kabasélé) and joined the seminal rumba orchestra African Jazz, with whom Dibango made around 40 recordings and went on tour in (what was then) Zaïre in 1961.
After a brief return to Cameroon, by the mid-1960s Manu was back in France, where he expanded his horizons and became a band leader, performing in concert halls and clubs around Europe, and began to develop the unique urban musical style that ultimately became his signature.
It was his 1972 masterpiece “Soul Makossa”, recorded as the B side of a 45 rpm single, that became the first African crossover Top 40 hit, selling millions around the world and earning Dibango the distinction of “Godfather of African Soul”.
Dibango’s output was prodigious and multi-faceted. His recording career yielded a discography of more than 70 solo albums, singles and film scores, plus contributions to compilations and anthologies, and performances on recordings by other artists. Inspired throughout his career by creative collaboration, he shared stage and studio with a “who’s who” of musical stars as diverse as Angélique Kidjo, Art Blakey, Bernie Worrell, Bill Laswell, Bob Marley, Don Cherry, Eliades Ochoa, the Fania All-Stars, Fela Kuti, Harry Belafonte, Herbie Hancock, Johnny Clegg, King Sunny Adé, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Nino Ferrer, Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel, Quincy Jones, Sinead O’Connor, Serge Gainsbourg, Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare, and countless others.
In addition to being one of the leading saxophonists of his generation across the globe, Dibango also ran nightclubs, directed orchestras, and started one of the first African musical journals. He contributed to the rise of new African cinema by composing film scores, and shared his story in an autobiography – Three Kilos of Coffee (originally in French) – published in 1990. Over the course of his lifetime he committed himself to humanitarian causes – awarded by organizations such as Unesco – while giving a hand to young talents along the way.
In 2019, the 86-year-old maestro launched a commemorative tour to celebrate six decades of musical innovation. He continued to flourish and expand in challenging new directions, inspiring his colleagues and fans alike. His job continued to fascinate him, and performing onstage remained a joy. With frequent tours throughout the years, he continued to keep a very busy performance schedule. In fact, he had just embarked on a “Symphonic Safari” – his new project which was presented at concert halls throughout Europe in the Fall of 2019.
An unprecedented experiment, “Symphonic Safari” is a journey through the African roots of black music – where traditional rhythms from Cameroon join with elements of jazz – to an encounter with classical European music. It also opens a door to exploring new directions for classical music and its possible combinations with jazz, blues and all forms of African music.
The show, which premiered at the Grand Rex in Paris in October of 2019, brought to fruition a long-time dream of a “large format” concert. The premiere featured the Lamoureux Orchestra (conducted by Martin Fondse) along with Dibango’s 13-member “Soul Makossa Gang”; additionally, a section of brass instruments plus Ivoirian bass player Manou Gallo and Brazilian singer Flavia Coelho as guest artists. With Dibango at the helm, some 40-50 musicians accompanied him in what may have been the trip of his lifetime!
In the course of his long career, Manu Dibango toured the U.S. only twice – in 1973 and again in 1994 – then returned in 2015 for a historic concert at NYC’s iconic Apollo Theater, where he presented “Je Suis Soul: A Salute to French and African Soul and Jazz”.
A 2020 North American tour was in the planning stages when Dibango contracted COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus. He passed away at a hospital in France this past Tuesday, March 24th.
For more on Manu Dibango:
“Africa is the Root … Music is the Mother Tongue”
PAN-AFRICAN JAM is a monthly party celebrating rhythm and movement with grooves from across the African Continent and throughout the Diaspora. A collaborative effort featuring DJ Neva (Catskill) + DJ Stone (Hudson) with occasional special guest musicians, the party is ON every 4th Saturday of the month.