Manu Dibango - Weya (45 edit)
Let me begin by saying that my knowledge of Afro-Funk is sketchy at best. I know a lot more than most, but almost nothing compared to some. In the last 10 years there have been a bunch of amazing comps of funky music from Africa, including later volumes of the ‘Ethiopiques’ series, the Africafunk volumes on the UK Harmless label (well packaged and annotated) as well as other one off discs. The problem is that as good as these compilations are (and some of them are excellent), they’re just scratching the surface. It’s like listening to one of the great Trojan ’20 Reggae Classics’ and thinking you’ve got a handle on the music (believe me, you don’t...). It doesn’t help that we’re talking about music from an entire continent, with distinct movements in Nigeria, South Africa, Cameroon, Mali, Ethiopia and on, and on, and on. I have a boxed set of African music that came out on some “world music” label (Ellipsis Arts, I think...) more than 10 years ago. To say that my mind was boggled by the sheer variety of Afro-pop sounds would be an undertstatement. It’s also important to note that there’s a lot of “funky” music from the continent, which most funk 45 collector types would not really classify as funk. I’ve liked King Sunny Ade and Fela for years, though most of what I’ve heard by those artists wouldn’t fall into the funk category. Perhaps the only African musician (aside from Hugh Masekela) to hit it big on the US charts with a “funk” cut would be Manu Dibango. Dibango’s 1972 ‘Soul Makossa’ was a huge international hit, spawning cover versions and rip offs all over the world (it hit the US top 20 in the summer of 1973) . You could probably fill a couple of crates with covers and variations on ‘Soul Makossa’ alone (I actually saw a reference somewhere that at one point there were NINE different versions of the song on various US charts) . When he hit with ‘Soul Makossa’, Manu Dibango had already been performing since the mid 1950’s, in France and Cameroon, originally as a jazz musician, and eventually fusing jazz, pop and African sounds. Dibango – like a lot of African musicians – was also listening to American soul and R&B, particularly James Brown. A tune like ‘Soul Makossa’, with Dibango’s driving sax and chanting was as hard, funky, and danceable as anything coming out of the US during the same period. There are some adventurous types will have you believe that ‘Soul Makossa’ was in fact an early disco record (mainly due to it’s success in European discotheques). Keep in mind that many of these same people say the same thing about ‘Do It (Til You’re Satisfied)’ by BT Express – a supremely funky record – and just because proto-disco DJ’s were spinning the record, doesn’t make it disco (followed of course by a Seinfeld-ian ‘Not that there’s anything wrong with that...”). I first heard ‘Weya’ when I picked up Dibango’s follow-up LP ‘Makossa Man’ (1973). The tune, which bears a passing resemblance to a more relaxed/groove oriented version of ‘Soul Makossa’ ran over six minutes long on the LP. When I finally tracked down the 45 posted here today, the tune had been edited down to around the four minute mark, but hadn’t lost any of its punch. Opening with a chant that includes the word ‘Makossa’*, the groove kicks in immediately. Starting with a fantastic rhythm guitar riff, polyrhythmic percussion and a repeated ascending piano line, all but the drummers drop out and the vocal chant of ‘Weya weya weya weya abana, weya weya weya weya weayaaaaa’ is repeated twice before the band comes back in to restate the main riff. There’s a “chorus” breakdown with some soloing by Dibango before the band gets back into the groove. I’ll be damned if I have any idea what they’re saying (some sounds African, some sounds French) but it’s one of the most infectious records I own. Give it a spin at your next giraffe-roast and watch the dance-floor magic begin! ‘Weya’ was also sampled by the Jungle Brothers for their track ‘Straight Outta The Jungle’. Sadly, ‘Weya’ is not currently available in reissue, unless you’re lucky enough to track down a copy of the Harmless ‘Africafunk’ comp. As always, you can always track down the vinyl (not all that hard to find in this case). If you can’t do that, the comp below is a good primer for the music of Manu Dibango. * The use of the term “Makossa” in tunes by Manu Dibango, expecially “Soul Makossa” has been disputed by scholars of African music, who claim that his records are not representative of the “Makossa” style. I have no idea what they’re talking about, but I thought I should mention it.