“Listen – New Bell MP3″
We gather here today, in the figurative bottom of the ninth inning, three men on base, two outs, the crowd on its feet, and it’s all hanging in the balance.
What “it” is, at least from my particular viewpoint is the concept of the weekend, i.e. the reward we all hope to get after being beaten like a rented mule for five days. No one who works for a living can be faulted for placing a great deal of hope in the restorative powers – physical and spiritual – of the weekend. It doesn’t matter whether you plan to lie on the couch in your jammies eating milk and cookies, fire up the leaf blower, or head out into the cold, dark night in search of the warmth of alcohol and /or human companionship.
When Friday night comes, all bets are off.
In my own case, I arrive here today after one of the slowest weeks in recent memory, filled to the brim with paperwork, general hassles and the grand parade of ignorami (that being the plural of ignoramus) that beset me almost daily. This is not to say that I do not enjoy the company of many of the folks I work with. In fact, I would have to say that in all my years at this particular job, I have never worked with a mellower bunch. However, when I say that, I refer only to those people that work in the same department with me. The people I have to deal with, all day long from the moment I walk into the building until I make my escape at 4:30, the people that hang around my neck like the ancient mariner’s albatross, the people that more often than not do nothing but lower my appraisal of humanity….they work in other departments.
I only tell you this to put a fine point on exactly how important the weekend is to me, personally.
It’s freedom, brothers and sisters.
It is in that spirit that I bring you a track so hot, so full of life, so…so funky, that I give you my personal guarantee that if you download it, give it the old zip-a-dee-doo-dah and shuffle it off into your MP3 delivery system, that its medicinal value will be revealed immediately, allowing you to launch yourselves into your own little slice of freedom today, or for that matter any time you want a taste of why you bother working for a living.
When I drop the needle on Manu Dibango’s ‘New Bell’, it makes me want to get my big & tall dashiki out of cold storage and do the hokey pokey until the break of day.
For those that don’t know – and I would sincerely hope that it’s not too many of you – Manu Dibango, “The Lion of Cameroon” is the cat that hit the international stage like an A-bomb in 1972 with ‘Soul Makossa’*. If you haven’t heard that particular song, I’d recommend highly that you hit the garage sales and flea markets tomorrow with a shiny quarter clutched in your hand, because that is all you will need to get a copy of that particular 45.
It is with that potent serving of Afro-funk, that the Manu Dibango story begins and ends. However, Dibango has had a long and versatile career, working in jazz (where he got his beginnings), funk and world beat, still playing today well into his 70’s.
The world of Afro-funk/Afro-beat is one that I have only scratched the surface of. As far as original vinyl sources, other than artists that have been widely issued outside of Africa (like Dibango or Fela Anikulapo Kuti, who we will be visiting with sometime next week), you pretty much have to be satisfied with reissues and compilations. Suffice to say (and listening to this track will illustrate it nicely) African artists, especially the two I just mentioned, who both spent a lot of time outside of Africa in their musically formative years, were listening to a lot of American funk and soul – especially James Brown – mixing those sounds with indigenous beats and modern African pop music. Considering how much US blues, funk and soul owe to African roots; you end up with one big musical Moebius strip, folding back in on itself from every angle.
Listening to ‘New Bell’, or other Dibango heaters like ‘Weya’, it’s not hard to understand why Dibango was so popular. While he created a densely layered funk, with multi-level instrumental interplay not unlike any contemporary James Brown production – he also worked in a touch of jazz (listen to Dibango’s soprano sax, and the electric piano solos) and just enough of an African vibe to spice up the mix. The end result was hypnotic and supremely danceable.
If you can get your hands on the original ‘Soul Makossa’ LP, as well as it’s follow up ‘Makossa Man’ (both released domestically on Atlantic) do so post haste. While ‘Soul Makossa’, ‘New Bell’ and ‘Weya’ all saw release as 45 edits (the first two domestically, and ‘Weya’ in Europe), it is really worth tracking down the albums for the extended mixes of all of these tunes, which are amazing. If you’re ever lucky enough to find the 45 of Dibango’s ‘Salt Popcorn’ – also known as ‘Dikalo’ – you’ll hear things get even funkier.
Fortunately there are a couple of excellent ‘Best of’ comps of Manu Dibango’s best work, though you’ll have to pick up a couple of them to get all of the best tracks.
Have a (really) good weekend.
* The last time I wrote about Manu Dibango, I received a couple of e-mail communiques from folks who let me know that despite the repeated appearance of the word ‘Makossa’ in his songs (they even mention it in the beginning of ‘New Bell’), that his music bears little resemblance to actual Makossa music. One of the commenters on this old post lays it out better than I can.