One year ago, Cameroon, Africa and the world lost a music legend. Cameroon would have been shaken with the calibre of people who would have come for the funeral of Afro-jazz icon, Manu Dibango, should he not have died of Covid-19.
The legendary saxophonist — who was born Emmanuel N’Djoke Dibango — died on March 24, 2020 after contracting the virus in a Paris hospital where he was being treated for another illness, his family said. He was 86 years old.
Dibango was arguably the first world’s known celebrity to have been killed by the virus.
He first came to global prominence in 1973 and inspired many of the younger generation of Afro-jazz musicians, including Michael Jackson.
He was celebrated for his unique tunes that blended American funk and traditional jazz with local Cameroonian rhythms to form a genre that made the country and the entire African continent proud on the international scene.
Dibango’s his biggest hit, “Soul Makossa”, is said to have influenced Michael Jackson's “Wanna Be Startin' Somethin’” which was the opening track of the American's famous album Thriller of 1982. The song was originally written as the anthem of the 1972 African Cup of Nations football tournament that Cameroon hosted.
Dibango sued the American singer for lifting a line from the song without authorisation and later won an out of court arrangement after Michael Jackson admitted his fault and requested for an amicable settlement.
Dibango’s love for music dates back to his teens when he attended Protestant church every night in Douala where he was born in 1933. He later moved to France where he attended high school and began learning instruments, first the piano, then saxophone – for which he became best known – and vibraphone.
At 86, Dibango, who was nicknamed Papy Groove, was still able to withstand a two-hour long concert and despite being a heavy smoker, he could still play the saxophone — an instrument that requires the lungs to be active.
The trailblazing saxophonist collaborated with many other musicians including the Nigerian multi-instrumentalist, musician and composer Fela Kuti and a South African trumpeter, flugelhornist, cornetist, singer and composer Hugh Masekela.
In an autobiography, Dibango said he left Africa for France, bearing three kilos of coffee for his adopted family. The book, Trois kilos de café: autobiographie (Three Kilos of Coffee: An Autobiography) chronicles his remarkable rise from his birth in Douala, Cameroon, to his worldwide success — with Soul Makossa in 1972 — as the first African musician ever to record a top 40s hit.
On this first anniversary of his demise, local radio and television stations in the country have been playing Manu Dibango’s songs as a sign of tribute to the late iconic musician.
On this day also, his fans remember one of his statements made during one of his outburst of laughter, “life is eternal, not man.” He was also famous for laughing each time he engaged in a conversation.
Due to the pandemic that is still very much present and taking away many more lives, Manu Dibango is yet to receive an international tribute worthy of his stature and musical work.
"We are waiting for the reopening of theatres and cinemas to do so," Claire Diboa, her manager told French website, leparisien.fr.
“We are preparing to be ready that day. This Wednesday (March 24, 2021), we will mourn as a family, but it is difficult. He who loved people so much left almost alone," she explained.
Manu Dibango died five days after another African musician, Congolese singer and composer, Aurlus Mabélé, whom family confirmed that he also died of the virus.
His daughter and singer Liza Monet confirmed he died of the coronavirus in Paris on March 19, 2020 at the age of 67.
Mabélé created not only the musical brand that was named Soukous — a high-tempo African and Caribbean dance hall style with pop and soul blends — but he also created a dancing and dressing style that accompanied the music genre which many of his fans adopted.
Born Aurélien Miatsonama on October 24, 1953, the man who was nicknamed “King of Soukous” moved to France after rising to prominence in Brazzaville in his native Republic of Congo in the 70s and the 80s with the group Les Ndimbola Lokole.
While in France, he cofounded the group Loketo with the famous guitarist Diblo Dibala and became its lead singer. The group toured Africa, Europe, the Caribbean and the United States.
Over 10 million records
The Congolese legend sold more than 10 million records and had a huge following across Africa.
Yet, Mabélé had a fragile health condition for more than 15 years after suffering a stroke and his music genre, Soukous went quiet after his last album, “Ca va se savoir” (“It Will be Known”), which was released in 2004.
Hopes for a revival were nevertheless lingering, but his demise seemed to have been like the last nail in the coffin of this music genre.
If many people are mourning him, it is because he took the music abroad, especially in France, where he recorded most of clips with Europeans dancing to the amazement of many who never thought African music could attain such heights.
Mabélé is gone, but his legacy of uniting the world through sound and dance will live on forever, according to recording academy, Grammy Awards.
Besides rapper, Liza Monet, who was born Alexandra Marie, Mabélé is said have 12 other children.