Manu Dibango at the festival Les Escales a Saint-Nazaire, France, July 2019 Photo via Wikicommons
Cameroonian saxophonist Emmanuel N’Djoké “Manu” Dibango died in Paris yesterday, March 24, after contracting Covid-19. “It is with deep sadness that we announce you the loss of Manu Dibango, our Papy Groove,” read the announcement on his official Facebook page. He was 86.
His best-known hit, “Soul Makossa” (1972), is a smooth mix of jazz, soul, funk, and African music elements. Originally the B-side of a Dibango’s 45 RPM single, the song outlived the disco era and remained an inspiration for generations of American artists. According to the site whosampled.com, Dibango’s work was sampled (not always with his permission) by artists such as Michael Jackson (on “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ ,” which was settled out of court), Rihanna, Kanye West, A Tribe Called Quest, and Busta Rhymes. Others have noted his work on tracks such as Public Enemy’s “Can’t Truss It” and JAY-Z’s “Face Off.” He also collaborated with artists as disparate as Herbie Hancock, Fela Kuti, Peter Gabriel, Eliades Ochoa, and Don Cherry.
Born in Douala, Cameroon in 1933, Dibango went to high school in France, where he learned to play piano and then saxophone. He spoke in interviews about falling in love with jazz after listening to Louis Armstrong and Count Basie in the cellars of Paris. A BBC.com story noted that the first song Dibango performed on the sax in front of his classmates was “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
“I play different kinds of music before playing my own. I think that’s very important to play other people’s music,” he is quoted in the story. “As you are African they expect you always to play African. Forget that. You’re not a musician because you’re African. You’re a musician because you are a musician. Coming from Africa, but first, a musician.”