Lion of Africa
Manu Dibango & the Maraboutik Big Band
featuring Baaba Maal, & Coco Mbassi & Courtney Pine
GMCD/DVD01 (CD & DVD)
Without Manu Dibango, it's been said, world-music would be 50 years behind. But since the charismatic multi-instrumentalist, singer and composer inhabits a stage as if he were the most relaxed of hosts at his own party, and looks - at over 70 - as if music-making is still as much fun for him as it's ever been, such sweeping claims probably don't exercise him much.
Yet Dibango has truly been a giant of the afrobeat movement. The world outside his homeland woke up to his unique mix of American soul-jazz and Cameroon dancehall music in 1972, when the hit song 'Soul Makossa' dominated the Billboard charts in not one but several versions. Collaborating with stars as different as Fela Kuti and Herbie Hancock in the years since, Dibango still wears his huge influence lightly, and looks and sounds as delighted by his life's work as ever.
That's plain to see on this concert, recorded at London's Barbican Centre in October 2004 - a combined party for Manu Dibango's 71st birthday and tribute to another giant of African music, Fela Kuti. Dibango, his punchy Maraboutik Big Band, and guests Baaba Maal, Courtney Pine and the versatile Cameroonian singer Coco Mbassi, take a captivating journey across African and American music. There are visits to the leader's own gracefully-grooving originals, like 'Wambele', 'Soma Loba' (featuring Baaba Maal's blazing vocals), 'Big Blow' (a roaring tenor-sax break for Courtney Pine, as well as an animated two-horn conversation between leader and guest) and of course the timeless 'Soul Makossa'. But the warmth of Manu Dibango's feelings for American jazz traditions is clear on his softly-swinging, marimba-led version of Gershwin's 'Summertime', in the luxuriant brass orchestration of swing giant Lionel Hampton's 'Midnight Sun', and in his tender alto-sax meditation on Duke Ellington's 'Morning Glory'.
Jazz, reggae, spirituals, blues, swing - Manu Dibango has played it all, and found time for an energetic role as a fundraiser for Africa, and as a vocal political force as well. This unique concert confirms not only how much he still loves what he does, but how much he's loved for doing it. A global citizen of music, Manu Dibango continues to view a troubled world with hope. He makes that message very hard to resist.
© John Fordham
London, December 2006