Manu Dibango fires back

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By the time he landed South Africa for the last Cape Town International Jazz Festival, his Soul Makossa Gang was celebrating 20 years of its existence. But rather than winding down, the Manu Dibango gang is still accelerating.

Although there was the octogenerian Andy Hamilton and Mama Africa Miriam Makeba, Manu Dibango was undeniably one of the oldest stars on parade at the 7th edition of the annual jazz showcase.

But with Manu Dibango, as the crowd at the Kippies Stage at the International Conference Centre venue would attest to, age was more of an advantage than a disadvantage. Like good wine Manu has got better with age. He was the other major act from whom the audience unanimously demanded for an encore. And like Makeba would do the following day, he rewarded them with an extra track.

Yours sincerely had finished jumping and screaming and thoroughly exhausted myself before I realised that what I consider my favourite Manu Dibango number was not even played.
But I had thoroughly enjoyed myself. That is what this young-looking old man still does to you each time he mounts the stage.He puts everything behind him to take you on an exciting escursion into jazz with the danceable Makossa flavour.

Gay story
Though reverred all over the world, Manu Dibango has always had a problem with the media in his home country Cameroun. Not too long ago, a story was making the rounds in the local media there that the legendary musician was a homosexual.

But dismisses it with a wave of the hand, saying he has since stopped reading stories in the Camerounian media despite being originally from that country.
Dibango who was listed among top100 gays in a magazine article insists that the article must have been engineered by his multiple enemies to smear his image.

Speaking to Saturday Sun during his recent visit here, he says he is 100% straight man and he is still at a loss as to where they got the story from. “The people made me laugh when they said I'm gay… Maybe it is the imagination of my enemies. I stay with my partner here. I have children who say I should not mind what the papers are saying in Cameroun”, he said.

Now 73 and still looking radiant in his clean-shaven head, Manu Dibango was born Emmanuel Dibango N'Djocke in 1933 in Douala, Cameroon. Though his parents were both Protestants, Manu was considered to be the child of a mixed marriage (his father is Yabassi while his mother is from Douala), Manu always felt that he was a divided man.

“Born of two antagonistic ethnic groups in Cameroon, where custom is dictated by the father's origin, I have never been able to identify completely with either of my parents. Thus I have felt pushed toward others as I made my own path”, the master saxophonist confessed to Saturday Sun

Sea trip to France
In the spring of 1949, when Manu was just 15, his parents sent him to Paris to prepare for a professional career. After twenty-one seasick days he reached Marseilles. He waited for hours until his sponsor showed up and they boarded a crowded train for Paris where he was enrolled in a technical school at Saint-Calais. It was at Saint-Calais that he finshed his second and third years of high school. Before he came to Saint-Calais, the locals there had never seen a black person, thus he became an object of curiosity.

Journey into jazz
Soon Manu met Francis Bebey, another African expatriate, and together the two began to explore the jazz scene in Calais. They started a band before they really knew how to play the instruments and learned as they went along. Bebey explained twelve bar blues to Manu and finally he began to understand the music of a favorite artist, Duke Ellington.

Manu studied classical piano before taking up the saxophone around 1954. Two years later he moved to Brussels and played sax and vibes with various jazz bands. Once in Brussels Manu began to take off as a musician. He met Coco and within a year they decided to stay together, Manu still regards her as his "eternal guardian angel."
As for when the 73-year-old Jazz and Makossa exponent would wind up, Manu Dibango says not any time soon. He told Saturday Sun he always does all he can to keep fit and promised to keep singing till he cannot move again.

Memories of Fela
Manu who spoke to Saturday Sun the day after the show said he came to South Africa with an 18-man strong band. When reminded that that was a fairly large size, he immediately referred us to the Afrika 70 and Egypt 80 band of the late Nigerian Afrobeat maestro, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti.

He said he still has fond memories of Fela, with whom he played a couple of times. He, however concedes one thing to Fela: unlike the rest of us who write our songs down and draw all the notes and cords and all, Fela did not write anything down. He just jammed straight from his head. And when ever he finished, it was always a masterpiece