MANU DIBANGO – Soul Makossa – (Atlantic) – 1972

This is one I picked up some time ago (15 years ?) and have listened to but was never convinced I should keep. My ear for jazz has, however, improved since my youth and I find this album improves, accordingly, the more I Iisten to it.
What I thought was quite obscure when bought 15 years ago, I have discovered, through the joys of the internet, is actually quite well known and influential.
Manu Dibango is quite the "dude" ("dude" = Frank being hip) and is Africa's most well known jazz saxophonist.
He was born Emmanuel Dibango N'Djoké on 12 December 1933 in Douala, Cameroon, and is a saxophonist and vibraphone player. Starting in the 1950s he travelled and lived in France, Belgium, Jamaica, Zaire, and Cote d'Ivoire, as well as in Cameroon. Though well known in cult jazz circles he became even more well known in 1960 when he became one of the founding members of the Zairean band "African Jazz", with whom he spent five years.
Soul Makossa was his international breakthrough.
What is makossa?
"Makossa" means "dance" in Duala, a Cameroonian language.
Makossa is a lively urban popular music danced to in clubs in Cameroon's cities. The funky bass rhythm, horn section, and vocalists create a unified sound, urging the dancers to move in rhythmic motion. Compared with Zairian soukous, makossa's sound is leaner, using fewer instruments and more musical space. Western instruments are dominant in makossa — horns, guitar, bass guitar, drums, and piano. The "kossa" dances of young Douala children, with its hand-clapping accompaniment, are the origins of the makossa style. These were combined with Latin influences, popular music from other countries in Africa (especially Nigerian highlife), and Congolese rhumba to create this vibrant sound. Makossa has developed over the years in Cameroon. A precursor to makossa, ambasse bey, was a guitar music played in the neighborhoods of Douala in the 1950s. Although people experimented with creating different variations of music in both urban and rural areas of Africa, it was not until the early 1960s that makossa began to be recorded by Eboa Lotin, a guitar and harmonica player who composed and sang songs. Misse Ngoh, a singer and guitarist known for his fingerpicking style, transformed makossa even further. Manu Dibango's album Soul Makossa, released in the early 1970s, drew international attention to Cameroon and its unique musical sound. Dibango's resonant voice and lyrical saxophone provide a distinct flavor to this urban music. By the 1980s, new-look makossa emerged. Major artists, such as Dibango, continue to experiment with and adapt the makossa sound according to their own artistic creativity.
I'm no expert but by some accounts this album has little of the makossa sound in it.
If it does or it doesn't is one thing, but to me the beauty of this music is in the fusing of jazz, funk and Cameroonian music. At the time it was nothing short of revolutionary, and obviously quite influential. Also, "Soul Makossa" is often considered the first disco record and as dubious as that honour is (which depends where you stand on the disco floor (sic)) I'm not sure that Manu anticipated the excesses of the Bee Gees or the Village People. So don't blame him.
The joy here is that although the sounds of future disco can be heard on this LP, the jazz, funk and African beats also come through loud and clear. And unlike minds eye pictures of mini dresses, flicked hair, wankers in flairs and shiny, sterile discotettes with lame beats when listening to this music, I see a hot, sweaty, "hole in the wall", packed full of dancing black chicks where the music is pumped up and dangerous in a unfamiliar way.
ie: The musical equivalent of being the only white guy on an all black street.
This music is quite "black" and not surprisingly this musical style is also called Afrobeat.
Names aside, this is as good as any of the other jazz funk crossovers happening at the time. I'm not sure how this would work over a number of albums as even here there is only one groove going through the album. But then again … what a groove it is …
Tracks (best in italics)
  • New Bell – 6:51 – a total groove – all 7 minutes in it. I love the way the sax is apart and yet part of the rhythm section.
  • Nights in Zeralda –  4:38 – some serious mellow groovin action with some middle eastern Arabian nights sounds at the start
  • Hibiscus  – 6:23 – moody, and a touch dramatic … like a crazed soundtrack to some story of a late night punter trawling through brothels in a former colonial outpost. At least to my ears.
  • Dangwa –  6:00 – starts out like "Shaft", not surprisingly (the influential "Shaft" came out in 1971), before moving into some traditional African chants and some call and response …
  • Lily  – 3:02 – the only song with standard lyrical content – well as standard as you can get.
  • Soul Makossa  – 4:30 – not really a makossa (apparently) but who cares. "Soul Makossa" was originally recorded as a B-side for "Mouvement Ewondo," a song about Cameroon's football (soccer) team.
  • Oboso  – 5:23 – a great way to end … in a total groove.
And … 
I'm keeping this. 
Chart Action
1973  Soul Makossa   R&B Singles 21
1973  Soul Makossa   The Billboard Hot 100 35
1973  Soul Makossa  R&B Albums 11
1973  Soul Makossa  The Billboard 200 79
no chart action

New Bell
Soul Makossa
  • wikipedia: "Soul Makossa" is a 1972 single by Cameroonian makossa saxophonist Manu Dibango. It is often cited as one of the first disco records. In 1972 David Mancuso found a copy in a Brooklyn West Indian record store and often played it at his Loft parties. The response was so positive that the few copies of "Soul Makossa" in New York City were quickly bought up. The song was subsequently played heavily by Frankie Crocker, who DJed at WBLS, then New York's most popular black radio station. Since the original was now unfindable, at least 23 groups quickly released cover versions to capitalize on the demand for the record. Atlantic eventually licensed the song from the French record label Fiesta. Their release of it peaked at #35 on the Billboard chart in 1973; in 1999 Dave Marsh wrote that it was "the only African record by an African" to crack the top 40. At one point there were nine different versions of the song in the Billboard chart. It became "a massive hit" internationally as well.
  • from wikipedia as to the influence of the "Soul Makossa' track ( none of the following is a good thing though):It is probably best remembered for the chanted vocal refrain "mama-se, mama-sa, ma-ko-ma-ko-ssa", which was adapted ("mama-se, mama-sa, ma-ma-ko-ssa") and used in Michael Jackson's 1982 "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" (albeit in a different key with a not-so-monophonic melody) during the song's final bridge. It is also sampled in the hip hop song "Face Off" by artist Jay-Z on his album In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 as well as the single "Don't Stop the Music" by Rihanna. The song is also sampled on the intro to The Carnival, Wyclef Jean's first solo album. The phrase "ma ma say ah, ma ma coo sah" also appears in the fourth verse of the song "Rhythm (Devoted to the Art of Moving Butts)" by A Tribe Called Quest, and in "Mama Say," the debut single by the Bloodhound Gang. Dirty Beatniks sampled the song for their 1997 dance track "Latinhead."
(originally posted: 06/06/2010)

About Franko

Hi, I'm just a person with a love of music, a lot of records and some spare time. My opinions are comments not reviews and are mine so don't be offended if I have slighted your favourite artist. I have listened to a lot of music and I don't pretend to be impartial. You can contact me on though I would rather you left a comment. I also sell music at Cheers
This entry was posted in Soul, Funk & Disco and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply