Cameroon’s Manu Dibango returns to Abidjan to celebrate 60 years of music

At 84, legend of African music Manu Dibango celebrated six decades of making world class music in Abidjan, the city that saw his maiden entry into the world of music. The concert, the first of his African tour in Abidjan, attracted nearly 1,200 spectators at the congress center of the Ivory Hotel on 29 June. For the occasion, a photo exhibition was installed, tracing the career of the international musician, his encounters, his albums, and his mythical scenes. 

The famous saxophonist and Cameroonian singer dished out some of the crowd’s favorite songs including “Soul makossa”, offering a live saxophone recital for his 1972 hit which opened the doors of the United States. For nearly two hours, the audience sang along to songs like “Somaloba” and “Sango” as the 84 year old, inspired by the audience, moved in agility on stage despite his age. “I am very happy, the singer said to RFI. “I wish other artists to be 60 years old and to be loved by an audience and artists.”

Cameroonian music legend Manu Dibango plays his saxophone during the All Africa Music Awards (AFRIMA) ceremony in Lagos, on November 6, 2016 Photo: AFP/Pius Utomi Ekpei.

For 60 years, Manu has developed a body of work that continues to resonate among listeners. Born Emmanuel N’Djoké Dibango, the Cameroonian musician and songwriter who plays the saxophone and the vibraphone and developed a musical style fusing jazz, funk, and traditional Cameroonian music, is a pride not only for Africa but for all those who love music. 

The celebration of his music career in Abidjan was a move that was more than welcome by most, including other notable artists. “It is true that we owe him a lot on the African and artistic level but that he returns in Ivory Coast to celebrate his 60 years I believe that he too is showing us all his gratitude”, Ivorian artist Aîcha Koné said.

Ivorian actor Isaach de Bankolé gives reverence to Manu Dibango

The renowned jazzman lived in Côte d’Ivoire in the 1970s where he conducted the orchestra for the nation’s state radio and television network for several years. At that time the country was the hub of African music and saw the emergence of singers like Malians Salif Keita, Amadou & Mariam or Guinean Mory Kanté. “It’s an honor to see Manu Dibango again in Ivory Coast, more than 40 years later,” said Ivory Coast Minister of Culture Maurice Bandama. 

The saxophonist was a member of the seminal Congolese rumba group, African Jazz, and has collaborated with many other musicians, including Fania All Stars, Fela Kuti, Herbie Hancock, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and King Sunny Adé. He also influenced several popular music hits, including Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin”. Manu Dibango remains an icon for his generation, and a model for the new wave of African musicians.