It’s not easy to cover four decades in a 13-song collection, particularly one that’s meant to emphasize the eclecticism of a composer-arranger-vocalist- multi-instrumentalist whose recordings range from vigorous, horn-driven Cameroonian dance music, with sizzling interplay with musicians such as his longtime guitarist Jerry Bokilo Malekani, to lite-jazz slow jams, including the string-laden “Mouna Pola” and a smooth cover of the Nat King Cole standard “Nature Boy.” So Manu Dibango’s Rough Guide set omits some of his funkiest material (“Africadelic,” “New Bell,” “Oboso”) to make room for more traditional-sounding, marimba-based African music (“Miango Ma Tumba”) and more conventional-sounding, sax-based soul-rock (“Super Kumba”). That still doesn’t leave enough room for his reggae experiments, for example, and the album even excludes his groundbreaking ’70s hit “Soul Makossa,” which some regard as the first disco record. Instead, we get a 10-minute medley of that song and “Big Blow,” which proves that Herbie Hancock, Bill Laswell, and bland electro-funk can’t overshadow Dibango’s sax. While this and the quiet-storm schlock prove Dibango is more than just an old-school makossa man, they’re neither gritty nor cheesy enough to be as much fun as the dance music that first made him an international star.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on February 8, 2005