Manu Dibango

Essential Recordings

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Though flawed, this is a useful two-CD overview of Manu Dibango's recording career. Its arc encompasses pre-"Soul Makossa" material (when he was primarily known only in Africa) to much more recent recordings, well after he became more renowned in Europe and North America. The chief flaw is that it can't be determined exactly how old or recent many of the recordings are, since the liner notes don't give dates or other original release information for a good deal of the tracks. Its chief asset is that there is certainly a lot of music here, the total running time adding up to nearly two and a half hours. However, perhaps as a consequence of simultaneously putting on so much music and spanning such a long era, the quality of the material is uneven. At its best -- "Soul Makossa," "Soul Machine" (whose funkiness stands up well to the hottest late-'60s/early-'70s artists in the style), "Iron Wood," and "Africadelic" -- it's an invigorating blend of soul, jazz, and African music that testifies to Dibango's stature as a major artist. In some of the tracks of later vintage, however -- particularly those that find Dibango trying to marry his music with reggae or disco -- he seems like an artist following trends, rather than helping to set them.

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