HIDDEN GEMS Manu Dibango, “Electric Africa” By John Morrison · January 24, 2020

Originally released in 1985, Electric Africa, a solo project from Cameroonian saxophonist Manu Dibango, is a forward-thinking fusion of African jazz and cutting-edge electronic dance music. The album was overseen by producer and bassist Bill Laswell, and features a lineup of guest musicians including Herbie Hancock, Wally Badarou, and Parliament-Funkadelic keyboard maestro Bernie Worrell. Electric Africa combines Dibango’s smoking, funky compositions with synths and drum machines. “Echos Beti” is propelled by a 4/4 rhythm, fiery percussion, and a deep, syncopated bassline. Tracks like “L’arbre A Palabres” and the title track are long, winding, uptempo songs where Dibango and his ensemble stretch out—improvising deftly and building intensity throughout. At the time of its release, Electric Africa was an anomaly in the pop-culture landscape. Arriving the year before Paul Simon’s Graceland, Electric Africa’s funky, optimistic sound and forward-thinking production prefigured the prevalence of global music that dominated the ‘80s and continues today. The torch that Dibango and crew lit with Electric Africa has been carried forth by the lasting popularity of Afrobeat today and the electronics-infused jazz of artists like Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah.

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