Renowned Cameroonian musician and consummate saxophonist and songwriter, Manu Dibango, is dead. Aged 86, Dibango died in Paris, France, on March 24, 2020 after contracting the rampaging Coronavirus. The legendary musician was one of the first global stars to die from COVID-19. Without doubt, his death has robbed Africa and the world of a great musician, whose music transcends traditional African roots music, jazz, soul, Afrobeat, reggae, Congolese rumba, salsa and others.
He was also reputed to be the founding father of funk. He was also one of the foremost pioneers of Afro-Jazz music. Apart from the saxophone, he also played keyboard and vibraphone. The late musician was born in Douala, Cameroon on December 12, 1933 as Emmanuel N’Djoke “Manu” Dibango to a civil servant father, Michael Manfred N’Djoke Dibango and a fashion designer mother.
Early in life, Dibango attended Protestant church for his religious education. He admitted the church influence and was quoted as saying: “I’m a child raised in the Hallelujah.” He was said to have enjoyed studying music and he was reportedly a fast learner. After his education in his village school, Dibango was admitted into a colonial school, near his home, where he learnt French. He started his musical career as a member of the seminal Congolese rumba group African Jazz.
The deceased drew on many influences and he demonstrated this in his eclectic style. He very much acknowledged these influences in his music. According to him, “I play different kinds of music before playing my own. I think that that’s very important to play other people’s music.” In a career that spanned six decades, Dibango collaborated with numerous artistes, including the US pianist, Herbie Hancook and Nigeria’s Afrobeat pioneer, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti.
He also performed all over the world with the likes of Ladysmith Black Mambuzo Hugh Masekela and several musical giants. Dibango serenaded audiences for years with his 1972 hit song, “Soul Makossa.” On his views on African music, Dibango was quoted to have said: “What is special is that Africa has a long historical relationship with sound, and a communion between sound and the visual stronger than in any culture. The sound carries the rhythm and the movement creates the images. The way an African moves compared with the environment is different from western conception.”
Some of his albums include Manu Dibango (1968); Saxy Party (1968); O Boso (1971) Somo Loba (1971); Soul Makossa (1972); Makossa Man (1974); African Rhythm Machine (1975), Super Kumba (1976) and Waka Juju (1982). His Soul Makossa was so successful that Michael Jackson reportedly used its refrain “mama-say, mama-sa, mama-kossa,” in his ‘Wanna Be Startin’ Something’, from his 1982 album, Thriller without permission. Rihanna was also accused of the same offence in her ‘Please don’t Stop the Music.’ Dibango sued both artistes for using his tracks. While he was given out-of-court settlement by Jackson, the case against Rihanna was dismissed.
Manu Dibango was a world-class musician whose music has influenced many musicians in Africa and the world over. He would be remembered for his sonorous voice, his trade mark saxophone and eclectic styles. There is no doubt that he contributed so much to the development of Jazz and funk in Africa. Whenever the history of global music would be written, Manu Dibango would get a prominent space.
It can be safely said that his 86 years on earth was literally devoted to music, his first and only love. Manu Dibango was a committed and visionary artiste. It will be difficult to get another Manu Dibango. We urge the Cameroonian government to immortalise this great son of Africa for his indelible contributions to the development of African and world music.
We enjoin aspiring musicians to emulate his shining examples. He was a good mentor and approachable role model. We join the world, his numerous fans and the musical community to mourn the departed musical legend. We commiserate with his family, fans, the people and government of Cameroon and the musical community on the passage of the iconic musician. We pray that God will grant his soul eternal rest.