Cameroon is an alluring vibrant country, bubbling with enchanting real African rhythms; a nation with some of the most talented musicians in Africa. One of Cameroon and Africa’s most celebrated musicians is composer, saxophonist and singer, Emmanuel Dibango, affectionately referred to as Manu Dibango. Nicknamed the “Lion of Cameroon”, Mr. Dibango is famous for an eclectic musical style that draws elements from African, American, European, and techno genres; including jazz, blues, reggae, hip hop, soul, gospel, spiritual, cabaret, as well as makossa, a Cameroonian folk dance rhythm, which Mr. Dibango helped bring to the world musical stage.
Mr. Dibango is versed in a variety of musical instruments, including the saxophone, keyboards, vibraphone, and marimba. He also introduces a great deal of vocals, as an additional ingredient to his performances.
Throughout his prolific career, he has performed countless concerts at world-class venues, and released 42 albums, 45 singles, and 7 compilations.
Emmanuel Dibango was born on February 10, 1934, in Douala, Cameroon, a Central and Western African nation, endowed with rich natural and cultural heritages. As a young boy, he participated in the church choir led by his mother; and would sing all day with the employees of his family’s dressmaking business. He would conduct the group to create harmonic melodies with human voices. Beside classical church tunes, he also listened to modern music.
As he grew older, Emmanuel was introduced to makossa, a Cameroonian version of West African highlife music, characterised by wind instruments used in jazz music and guitars. These childhood experiences provided the foundation for Mr. Dibango’s subsequent musical ingenuity and thriving career. At age 15, he moved to France to pursue a technical career. He began to frequent jazz clubs in Paris and was exposed to a range of contemporary music genres, while getting to know celebrated musicians such as the legendary Duke Ellington.
After completing college in 1956, Manu Dibango moved to Brussels, Belgium, where he performed with Congolese vocal star Joseph Kabasele. In 1960, he returned to Africa and played keyboard and saxophone with various bands in several countries, before forming his own in his motherland in 1963.
Mr. Dibango moved back to Paris in 1965, to work as a bandleader; and became fond of American soul music. In 1968, he released his first solo album. His international success came with “Soul Makossa” in 1972. The song was also featured in his fourth album in 1973, which includes the scores he composed for the African Football Championship, as was requested by then President Ahmadou Ahidjo of Cameroon.
“Soul Makossa” gained instant popularity in New York City. One hundred and fifty thousand albums sold out in a week. Within a short time, at least 23 versions by other artists were generated to meetthe demand of the public. In subsequent concerts, Manu Dibango had audiences of 40,000 at the Yankee Stadium, and 350,000 at the Madison Square. “Soul Makossa” won a gold record for sales in the United States and a Grammy Award nomination for Best R&B Instrumental Performance of the year.
“Soul Makossa” equally achieved great success in Africa, Europe, and other parts of the world. Its vocal refrain “ma ma ko – ma ma sa – mako mako sa” became so popular that it was later adapted by many renowned artists; including Michael Jackson. Manu Dibango himself was lauded by Billboard’s Emmanuel Legrand as “one of the founders of the world music movement.”
Between 1975 and 1979, when Mr. Dibango was the director of the Radio Orchestra of Cote d’Ivoire,
he composed soundtracks for several African movies, including Cote d'Ivoire’s “Wild Grass,”(French: L’Herbe Sauvage); Cameroon’s “The Price of Freedom,” (French: Le prix de la liberte);and Senegal’s “Ceddo.” During the decade that followed, he was inspired by reggae and hip-hop music, and producedinfluential albums such as the 1982 “Waka Juju,” the 1984 “Abele Dance,” the 1986 “Afrijazzy,” andthe 1990 “Polysonic.”In 1990, Manu Dibango published his autobiography “Three Kilos of Coffee.” (French: Trois Kilos de Café). Subsequently, he appeared as a host on a weekly live TV music program, “Salut Manu,” on French TV. In 1994, Manu Dibango celebrated his 60th birthday with the release of the new record “Wakafrika,” which brought his career to an unprecedented height.Joined by a younger generation of top African and international stars, including Peter Gabriel,King Sunny Ade, Sinead O'Connor, Youssou N'Dour, Papa Wemba, and Ladysmith Black Mambazo,Mr. Dibango performed keyboards, saxophone, and did all the arrangement. “Wakafrika” reachedthe 7th place on Billboard’s Top World Music Albums chart in the same year.In 1995, “Lamastabastani,”also known as “Dance with Manu Dibango,” was released, which was, a combination of African spiritual rhythm, blues and gospel tunes. “African Soul” followed in 1997, featuring the very best of his work up to that year. In 2000 and 2001, he came out with two new albums,“Mboa’Su” and “Kamer Feeling,” respectively.Entering the 21st century, Mr. Dibango released his 70th birthday collection “Africadilac” in 2003.
Two years later, he scored the soundtrack for the well-received French animated film “Kirikou and the Wild Beasts,” (French: Kirikou et les bêtes sauvages), which is based on a young boy’s interaction with various animal friends. The CD “Lion of Africa” was also produced to commemorate his 50 years of music career in 2007.Now at the wonderful age of 79, Manu Dibango is still traveling around the world to collaborate with major orchestras and enthralling his loyal admirers.Throughout his prolific career, Mr. Dibango has been recognised with numerous distinctions; For example, he received the honorary titles of Knight of Arts and Letters (French: Chevalier Des Arts et Lettres); Officer of Arts and Letters (French: Officier Des Arts et Lettres) from France, and the Knight of the Order of Valour (French: Chevalier de l’Ordre de la Valeur) from Cameroon. He has been named Honorary Citizen by two Italian cities: Turin and Cortina d’Empezzo. In 2004, Mr. Dibango was named a UNESCO Artist for Peace.
To celebrate 50 years of Manu Dibango’s talent as an ambassador of Cameroonian culture through music,
President Paul Biya hosted a special celebration in Yaoundé in 2007. At this auspicious occasion, the city council presented the acclaimed artist with the title Grand Yaoundean; meaning, an honorary citizen of Yaoundé.The versatile and dedicated Mr. Manu Dibango is truly an inspirational figure of world music.
For more about Manu Dibango, please visit www.ManuDibango.net
List to Manu Dibango’s music at the following links:
Soir au village (An evening in the village):