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An interview with “Soul Makossa” Manu Dibango

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POLE-POLE FESTIVAL, Gent, Belgium, July 21 2005

Manu Dibango is perhaps one of the world’s best jazz saxophonists. A true international super star with a career starting from the 50’s. At 15 he was sent to Paris to prepare for a professional career. He is a tireless globe trotting musician. Last year, he played for hundreds of funs at Mano-Mundo Festival in Belgium, and this year he was in Belgium again to play at Gent. He speaks about his passion in music.

Joel: As an African musician you have made such an enormous contribution to African music internationally. How do you feel about this achievement?

Manu: I’m glad I’m still in motion. I don’t think of my past achievements. The most important thing is what I’m going to do tomorrow. I’m happy I did what I did. Thanks be to God.

Joel: In 1972, your hit “Soul Makossa” stormed the world. Since then you are still on the music scene. What keeps you moving all these years?

Manu: Passion “La Passion” What I would want African youths to have is passion. Because if you have passion, you can easily accept suffering and when there is no passion, you have to try to cultivate it. If you can do that then you can really bring out the best of your self.

Joel: In 1985, you raised funds for famine stricken Ethiopia through your “Tam-tams for Ethiopia project” with Mory Kante and others. What do you feel about the present situation in Ethiopia?

Manu: Well, talking about Ethiopia is like talking about the whole continent. A month ago we played against AIDS and famine. We also played in Dakar. It is not only the music which is playing an important role on this issue of problems affecting Africa, but the activities of doctors, sportsmen and journalists are also helping in various ways.

Joel: According to an international music magazine I read recently, you and the late Fela Anikulapo Kuti are among the world’s best saxophonists. How do you feel about this?

Manu: It’s nice to hear that. You know that one don’t play music just for the hours to pass. But you play music because you are in love with music and luckily if it happens that people like what I’m proposing, then I’m happy. Although music is business, yet you don’t start thinking about money from the initial stages when you are in music. First propose to the people what they want and if they like it, then the money comes later.

Joel: Last year, I watched you playing at the Mano-Mundo festival, when the frenzy crowd called for more song. What was your experience at that moment?

Manu: Well you can see that I’m still in motion. It happens that you share the music with the audience. That is the best happiness an artist can have. I’m not alone on stage but with a group of musicians. So the more the music is successful, the more the audience feel happy about the music. It’s the responsiblity of an artist to make his fans happy. That is proposition. I’m always talking about proposition.

Joel: This question comes from one of your fans who lives in the United States of America. He said I must ask you the reason you do always play in Africa and Europe but not in the USA.

Manu: If they want me there, I will be there. I go to every country that wants Manu. I have management and those who want me to play contact my management. I have played in Canada and some parts of South America. I live in America for two years in the 70’s. The most important thing is they love my music.

Joel: This another question from one of your fans. He said that when he was young, he heard that you sued Michael Jackson for using “Makossa” in his music without your permission. Is it true?

Manu: Yes that is true. It is a long time story in 1986. But the problem has been solved long time.

Joel: I believe that you are in your seventies. What is the secrete behind your fitness?

Manu: If I have a secrete of what keeps me young, then definitely I’m going to sell it. (He laughed) I told you before, It’s passion.

Joel: In 1994, you released “The rough guide of Manu Dibango” What do you have in store for your numeous fans worldwide?

Manu: Well at the moment I have a big band in France. The name is “Marabuti” We have big projects presently and the future we are going to the studios probably in autumn for recording.

Joel: Sir, thank you very much for this interview.

Manu: You are welcome.

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About Joel Savage

  • Shashidhar V

    Born and brought up in India during the late 60s, it was rather uncommon for us to listen to ‘English’ music, as most non-Indian music was termed here. A small town boy, I used to frequent the local cinema to watch the few Hollywood films at the only theatre in our town. And, it was there that I first heard Manu diBango and his album – Soul Makossa. Since it was an ‘English’ film, they played ‘english’ songs during the interval, or before the movie began. From the first time that I heard it, I fell in love with the beat, the sound of it. There were times when I used to watch a film, repeatedly, so that I could get to listen to the songs. Such was his music, that it grasps you. That must have been some time during 1975 or so. And, I’ve searched high and low – from my home town to New Delhi to, now, Mumbai for his album, but, unfortunately, no one seems to have it here. And, after almost 30 years, I managed to lay my hands on the songs – at a pay site on the Internet. IT still happens to be the only music album that I bought online, by paying using my friend’s credit card! Great stuff. Would love to meet the man some day.

  • joel savage

    Hello Nadege, your wish to interview Manu Dibango, in regard to your work is very interesting. Please before weekend I would send you his e-mail address to contact him personally. Thanks.
    From the writer.

  • Nadege Tchotchoe

    Dear Joel,

    I work for the Royal African Society (www.royalafricansociety.org) in London. I would like to interview Mr Dibango for a piece I’m doing on the role of music in development. As he is a prominent African artist and has worked with other African artists; in addition has done work for the UNDP I would really appreciate his contribution.

    I would be very grateful if you could please forward me his details, or perhaps put me on to someone who could pass me on to him. I am finding it tricky getting a hold of his contact details.

    I hope to hear from you soon. Thank-you.