The most widely known musician from the African nation of Cameroon, Manu Dibango was one of the pioneers of world music in the early 1970s and remained one of the most internationally celebrated African musicians into the mid-1990s. Long recognized for combining African, American, European, and techno sounds, Dibango first achieved global fame in 1973 with “Soul Makossa,” through which he popularized makossa music, a Cameroonian form of early-century West African dance music.
Born Emmanuel Dibango on February 10, 1934, in Douala, Cameroon, Dibango first discovered his interest in music as a boy at home and in church. In addition to church music, which included many classical European scores, Dibango also listened without his parents' knowledge or approval to modern music on their gramophone. There and at performances in Douala, Dibango as an adolescent heard African musicians playing an assortment of modern Western music and Cameroonian styles, including initiation music, with drums and wooden instruments, and assico, percussive dance music played by guitar bands.
Hearing these bands, Dibango gained early exposure to makossa, a modern Cameroonian version of West African highlife music. Highlife developed in the 1920s and 1930s from African musicians who incorporated original dance tunes into their performances for colonial audiences. The form drew on Western music, including jazz. As a West African response to merchant trade under colonial rule during the first half of the twentieth century, highlife represented an early accomplishment for modern Africa.