Manu Dibango And Aurlus Mabele, Two West African Musical Giants, Die Of COVID-19

Mar 24, 2020
Originally published on March 25, 2020 11:10 am
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

While Africa has had relatively few deaths from the coronavirus, the continent has lost two legendary musicians to the disease. Both of them defined their genres, and both died of COVID-19 in Paris. NPR's Eyder Peralta has this remembrance.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LISTE ROUGE")

AURLUS MABELE: (Singing in non-English language).

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Aurlus Mabele's music was defined by that fast beat and those arpeggio guitar licks that are full of urgency. Almost all his songs had long instrumentals. They let him dance, and Mabele let loose. Mabele defined the Congolese soukous. The name is inspired by the French word for shake, so Mabele shook, sensually sometimes, carelessly others.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LISTE ROUGE")

MABELE: (Singing in non-English language).

PERALTA: Mabele liberated rumba. He packed New York City clubs in the '90s.

The other great that Africa lost today was the Cameroonian Manu Dibango. His influence came much earlier in the '70s. George Collinet hosts the radio show "Afropop" on PRX.

GEORGE COLLINET: He revered black musicians, American musician particularly.

PERALTA: Dibango's early work was influenced by American jazz greats like Louis Armstrong.

(SOUNDBITE OF MANU DIBANGO SONG, "SOUL MAKOSSA")

PERALTA: But the saxophonist came to have a profound influence on American dance music. Collinet was in a studio in Paris when Dibango recorded the phrase that changed everything.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOUL MAKOSSA")

MANU DIBANGO: (Playing saxophone). (Singing) Hey, soul makossa.

PERALTA: That song was played everywhere. People danced it on "Soul Train," and Michael Jackson stole it on "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'."

COLLINET: Everybody was copying that mamago mamasa mama makossa (ph). He was suing everybody right and left (laughter).

PERALTA: Over the course of his career, Dibango put out dozens of records. He was genre agnostic - played reggae and New Orleans jazz. He played with anyone who would play with him. But his roots were always in Africa - in those beats, in those grooves.

(SOUNDBITE OF MANU DIBANGO'S "WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD")

COLLINET: The thing, is in, Africa music is dance, no matter how you look at it.

PERALTA: In the end, these two West African musicians not only helped define genres but, more importantly, they transcended borders and languages to make people dance.

(SOUNDBITE OF MANU DIBANGO'S "WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD")

PERALTA: Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Nairobi.

(SOUNDBITE OF MANU DIBANGO'S "WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.