Back in 1972 Cameroonian saxophonist and multi-instrumentalist Manu Dibango made a debut with the afrobeat hit Soul Makossa. Normally, you'd imagine that this would have resulted in the standard definition of a 'one-hit-wonder' ... However, 40 years and 29! albums later, obviously not. With the release of his 30th LP Past Present Future, Manu Dibango revisits the track that started the ball rolling in the beginning.
Frequently cited as one of the very first disco records, Soul Makossa was first picked up in New York by David Mancuso, popularised, and within a short time all copies had been bought up. Demand remained high though and subsequently 23 different groups released cover versions to 'fill the gap' - At one point there were nine different versions of the song in the Billboard chart!
Most famous perhaps for the refrain "ma-mako, ma-ma-sa, mako-mako ssa", which has been borrowed, adapted and sampled dozens of time since (by people such as Michael Jackson, Milli Vanilli, Fugees, Eminem and Rihanna), Soul Makossa was obviously way ahead of its time.
The recent release of Past Present Future saw Dibango team up with singer / songwriter / producer Wayne Beckford, whose experience working with top-name 'pop' acts (eg. Akon, Seal, Black Eyed Peas) has brought a whole new angle to the mix, expanding Dibango's Jazz, Funk and Afrobeat styles into something highly contemporary. And in line with the album's title and theme - a re-invention of Soul Makossa was just waiting to be included.
The rest of the album (released last year) too reflects a slick collaboration between the seminal musicianship of Dibango and a host of modern artists. Those taking up vocal duties include Lalcko, a Cameroonian slammer, singing a tribute to Manu (the track Manu Dibango), the Franco-Cameroonian rapper Pit Baccardi (Elolombe), the Moroccan singer Oum with her graceful voice (Oum Song), Manu’s friend the rapper Passi (Bantou Life) and the alternative rock group Safehaus (Shallow Waters).
Each bring their own dash of colour, tone, rhythm, soul and lyrics, creating a musical conversation between Dibango and the “youngsters”. They muse on Africa, its new face, their aspirations for unity, and their everyday battles.
With the language split somewhat 50/50 between French and English, there's a marvellous variety between the tracks - but behind each is simply the excellently crafted funky grooves and beats that are a delight to listen to. Some of the lyrics may sound a little 'naive', possibly from the inevitably imperfect translation to a second language, but aside from that - giving Past Present Future a dedicated spin makes for a highly enjoyable experience.
It's not often that you can come across music from such a veteran that manages to sound so very much up-to-date, but Manu Dibango's latest offering lives up to the challenge and comes out with a triumphant smile.