Afro-jazz: the legacy of Manu Dibango

It is impossible to list the most influential African musicians of the 20th century and not include Cameroonian saxophonist Manu Dibango. Considered the legend of Afro-jazz, he gained worldwide notoriety when he fell in favor of New York DJs, who catapulted the song “Soul Makossa” to one of the greatest hits of 1972.

Affectionately called “Papy Groove”, Dibango died this week in a Paris hospital, victim of Covid-19.

Manu Dibango developed his own musical style, which mixes elements as diverse as reggae, jazz, afro-beat and funk. He also promoted the union between world music and pop, inspiring several generations of musicians and becoming an icon of black music.

2015: Manu Dibango participa em Brasília de uma reunião com o ministro da Cultura do Brasil e o embaixador francês Laurent Bili (Foto: LiadePaula/MinC)

Born in Duala, Emmanuel N’Djoke Dibango has always had a life connected to music. Since he was a child, he liked to listen to songs from various places of the planet through the gramophone from his father, a civil servant. The mother, a fashion designer, sometimes worked as a teacher in a church, where Papy Groove had the opportunity to participate in a choir. Of the various instruments he had mastered, Dibango chose the saxophone as his favorite.

In Belgium, during college, he had contact with the Congolese community. He fell in love with the country so much that he moved to the capital Kinshasa – at the time still called Léopoldville – to manage a nightclub. This story is told in “Trois kilos of coffee”, his autobiography launched in 1989.

3 songs to remember Manu Dibango

To celebrate Manu Dibango’s career, ATLANTICO chose three tracks. They can be the Kickstarter to know the work of this genius, who had an agitated career.

Soul Makossa 

Manu Dibango’s most celebrated work is full of controversy. In 1983, as part of the Thriller album, Michael Jackson released the song Wanna Be Startin ‘Somethin’ which would have an accelerated version of a piece of Soul Makossa. The same sample was reused in 2008 by singer Rihanna in the song Don’t Stop The Music. This issue ended up in the courts and resolved with a court settlement.

Pepe soup 

Released in 1973 as part of the album “Makossa Man”, the track has a contagious and psychedelic beat. Countless musical groups in the world were clearly inspired by this song, like The Sugarhill Gang, that released the song “Apache” in 1981.


Also released in 1973, Africadelic is full of life, inspiring musical themes for action scenes in television shows and movies. It is a vibrant and electric work that shows how the whole musical mix proposed by Dibango can work if done well. It’s incredible!

+Listen to other hits by Manu Dibango on this Spotify playlist