Manu Dibango comes to Nairobi

He will perform at this year’s  jazz concert. PHOTO | Courtesy
He will perform at this year’s jazz concert. PHOTO | Courtesy 

Nairobi is joining other cities around the world in celebrating this year’s International Jazz Day with a performance by one of Africa’s most distinguished musicians.

Cameroonian saxophonist Manu Dibango will be the headline act at a special concert on May 1 at the Carnivore Grounds. Dibango will perform alongside 12 Kenyan bands, including Different Faces led by Edward Parseen, Mwai & The Truth, Afro Sync, Swahili Jazz and the Nairobi Horns Project.

The “Lion of Cameroon” who is celebrated as the father of modern African music has been at the forefront of the continent’s music since the 1950s. The imposing 84-year-old clean-shaven, gravel-voiced singer/multi-instrumentalist is also a composer, producer and film score writer. Even at his advanced age, Dibango has remained energetic in performance along with his famous backing band Makossa Gang.

His last performance in Nairobi was at the Koroga Festival in 2016, which featured a thrilling mix of his wide catalogue of music that appeals to fans across the generations.

Born in Douala, Cameroon, Dibango went to study in France in 1949 arriving in Marseilles with a small sum of money and three kilos of coffee to pay for his first term in boarding school (His 1994 autobiography is called “Three Kilos of Coffee”).


He discovered the saxophone as a high school student but could not afford to buy the instrument so he started by playing the piano. He lived in Brussels in the late 1950s and was influenced by watching American jazz performers like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Count Bassie.

Dibango founded his band in 1967, and released his first ever musical recording in 1968. He created his signature Makossa style known as by blending blues, jazz, reggae, highlife, and other global musical influences.

His 1972 classic “Soul Makossa” made him the first African musician to score a Top 40 hit in the US and earned him two Grammy Award nominations. Michael Jackson sampled the song’s refrain in 1982 for his hit “Wanna Be Starting Something” off the “Thriller” album and Rihanna also adapted it for her 2007 single “Don’t Stop The Music”.

Throughout his long career, Dibango has worked with and influenced global stars like Harry Belafonte, Paul Simon, Fela Kuti, Papa Wemba and the late Hugh Masekela.

Edward Parseen who is also a saxophonist and leader of the Different Faces band says no one should underestimate the impact of having a legend like Manu Dibango at the event.

“I have been in the business for about 15 years, and I have so much to learn from an artist of this stature who has spent more than 60 years making music.”
This will be the second time for Parseen to perform on the same stage as the Cameroonian having been among the acts that played at his last show in Nairobi in 2016.

Dibango has remained as active as ever well into his 80s, with a hectic touring and recording schedule. He has recently recorded the album ‘M&M” with his long time collaborator Moreira Chonguica from Mozambique. He has called the album an “Africa re-reading” of well-known jazz standards “Take 5” and “Softly As In a Morning Sunrise’

The concert will also launch the new season of the Safaricom International Jazz Festival with a showcase of the Kenyan bands that have been part of the five years of the festival.

The Nairobi Horns Project and the band Africa Plus from South Africa will be launching a collaboration called “Africa Unite”.

The NHP trio made a connection with drummer Sphelelo “Lelo” Mazibuko and pianist Luyanda Madobe at the 2016 edition of the festival and created this project of eclectic sounds.

In November 2011, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) officially designated April 30 as International Jazz Day to highlight the genre and its role in uniting people in all corners of the world.

It is the culmination of the Jazz Appreciation Month, which draws public attention to jazz and its heritage through concerts and outreach programmes around the world.