Rough Guide

The most versatile musician with African roots is no doubt Manu Dibango. For more than 40 years he has played music of all imaginable styles. Soul, reggae, blues, gospel, jazz and classical are like open books to him. During his long career that began by playing piano in Brussels during the 50s -- and continues on in Paris to the present day -- he has always performed a unique blend of a set style enlivened with his own inventions.

Always absorbing, digesting, then transforming it into unique music - this is how Dibango earned the honorific of musical philosopher. One example: "... music is an indivisible life form. Art is a Western concept. In traditional Africa, the word has no meaning." Another: "... in the West great artists like Leonardo da Vinci were commissioned, their work was paid for. But in Africa, creative work was not bought and sold."

Manu's effortless mixing of cultures has origins in his childhood. Born in 1933 in Cameroon of parents with different ethnic backgrounds, he discovered music in church. His love of music made him emigrate to France to study music. There he was influenced by the great jazz men of the times - Armstrong, Parker, Ellington. He picked up the saxophone and performed throughout France. After graduation, he moved on to Belgium. There he met with Joseph Kabasele with whom he would produce many records. It was Kabasele who took Manu to his homeland Congo. There he remained for many years before returning to Cameroon.

Only when an American DJ picked up "Soul Makossa" did Manu become a global legend. He continued moving from African country to country, always learning and teaching while playing newly acquired styles. He then did the same from continent to continent and performed with numerous musicians. Just as Manu Dibango learned from his fellow musicians, they learned from him. Dibango became the true personification of the term World Music.

On the Rough Guide to Manu Dibango, it is Manu who personally selected the songs from his large musical archive to cover his creative period of 1966 to 1992. On these songs, Manu plays seven different instruments. This collection also forms the base for many live concerts. All songs, be they influenced by 70s' jazz rock, classical orchestras or pure funk, are embedded in sweet African rhythms. Another characteristic of pure Dibango is the layering of sounds. He first establishes a strong rhythm base upon which the next layer of melody is spread, say with a keyboard or guitar. Now an interweaving melody follows which in turn is topped off by Dibango's unique saxophone style.

Instruments from the West and Africa blend like they have rarely been juxtaposed. Merengue, Reggae, Soca, stadium Rock and Highlife can all be found tied together in these songs, making the album not only a showcase for Manu's stylistic universality but also a great record to dance to. Of course this compilation includes "Soul Makossa" although in a different version than on Makossa Blow. Here Herbie Hancock and Bill Laswell help Manu Dibango to melt "Soul Makossa" and "Big Blow" together. Though these recordings stem from earlier years, post production and mastering are nicely accomplished. Dynamics aren't huge but that only makes this album perfect for Lounge use - and when the volume get's turned up, it's get-down party time.