Before there was the label of “afrobeat” and well in advance of the market for “world music,” you may as well have filed this stuff under ‘Funk.” Given the number of cover version of “Soul Makossa” recorded by American acts in the year following the song’s arrival on U.S. shores, why the hell not?
In the course of searching for some discog info while doing vinyl rips of some early Manu Dibango LPs, I come across the following from Robert Christgau, re Dibango’s Makossa Man album:
"Hate to say this, but what makes Dibango's African dances so much catchier than those of the competition is that he's from a French part of the continent, which means he relates to the Caribbean -- all of it -- rather than to rock. Let's face it, rock's catchiest beats have always come from the Caribbean. Not that ‘catchiest’ is the only superlative I care about."Cute, but I’m inclined to wave off the Franco-West Indies assertion. If anything, it could be argued that the former colonial territories of Spain and Portugal exerted a more pervasive influence. But in extending “the Dean” of American rock scribes all due courtesy, I guess one could make the Franco-Caribbean connection by way of a soukous kinship. Maybe. If anything, most Western listeners are more likely to hear obvious influences of James Brown, Junior Walker, et al.. Most Americans were introduced to Dibango’s music with “Soul Makossa,” and again with the Atlantic LP of the same name that quickly followed; the latter of which included a couple of tunes that the artists had recorded four year earlier. If anything, there’s plenty of moments when you might be struck by the canny parallel between what Dibango was up to – in terms of electrified rhythmic Afro-Cuban hybridity, and the expansiveness of a groove – and what Carlos Santana and his crew were doing at the exact same time.
And I suppose there’s a lot could be said about the extent of the Santana influence; about he his band inspired countless musicians – be they black, brown, beige or white – during the years of the late 1960s and early 1960s. If anything, there was a timeliness about it all, as if Carlos & crew had come along at exactly the right cultural moment. Mainly because the appearance of those first several Santana albums coincided with the years that the Chicano (Civil Rights) Movement reached peak activity and achieved its highest public recognition. Perhaps something similar could be said of Dibango’s premier on the international stage, corresponding as it did with a brief period when political hopes an urbanizing, post-colonial northern Africa were brightly optimistic.*
* A personal for-instance: I recall that in the early 1970s, some elementary-school world history textbooks in the U.S. adopted a chapter or two about Africa's emergence on the geo-political stage (particularly focusing on Nigeria, which had – admittedly – at the time only recently emerged from the Biafran War). By the end of the decade, this trend would undergo a reversal – with Africa being once again returned to the margins in most textbooks, if not dropped altogether.