Manu Dibango at Ronnie Scott’s, London | Live Review


Best known for his much-sampled dance floor funk bomb “Soul Makossa” [that Michael Jackson got sued for unauthorized use of in “Wanna Be Starting Something”], Manu Dibango is among a small illustrious group of musicians who’ve managed to sustain their career into a fifth decade. The Cameroonian saxophonist and vibraphone player blends Afrobeat, jazz and funk together for an original sound – which we heard in all its brilliance in London on May 4th; the second of a sold out three night stand at the legendary music institution Ronnie Scott’s.

Ambling onstage looking like your cool granddad yet a lot less than his 78 years, Dibango picked up his trusted mallets and lead his seven piece band through a laid back jazzy jam with the all-seated audience watching in appreciation. After the mellow introduction, the energy levels picked up as the set veered into up-tempo Afro-Funk territory, with Dibango exchanging his vibraphone for a saxophone and showing off some funky licks over the bands tight instrumentation.

A welcome diversion from the impressive musicianship came in the form of two backing singers lending their warm soulful vocal talents to “Malaika,” one of Miriam Makeba’s best-known songs, with Dibango assuming keyboard duties; providing the shows high-point. Another highlight came in the form of an epic feedback fuelled guitar solo, providing a fitting end to another sublime jam at the night’s mid-way stage.

The set’s focus was evenly split between Jazz and Afro-funk; consequently older more dance orientated material was overlooked – understandable considering the intimate environment and the fact that there was one more set to be played later in the evening, plus two more performances the following night.

An hour and a quarter flew by in a blink of an eye and after a short encore the band exited stage left to warm applause. Much like his fellow vibraphonist Roy Ayers, it’s heart warming to see an artist in his autumn years still performing to appreciative crowds and enjoying every minute of doing what he loves to do. It seems old age really can’t hit a moving target; especially one as spirited and creative as Manu Dibango.