Own Guru Records. I had been spending a lot of time spinning our small assortment of international records at home, and thought this could be a good addition. What lured me in? Reading the back cover tipped me off that the musicians were from Guadeloupe, the "River Congo," Cameroon, and France. Interesting mix! The back photo had something to it -- was it that the band was wearing bell-bottoms and playing in a tunnel? I worked up the courage to ask the owner words of wisdom about this one to which he enthusiastically responded, "It's great, bring it over and I'll play it for you. When I used to play this one at the clubs, it got everyone moving!" The moment he got it spinning I understood why.
This album has all manors of percussion and rhythmic guitar. The driving sound never lets up. Frequent use of manic toumba (French for conga) action, echoing reverb, and low-tone chanted vocals is hypnotic.
The title track is noted for being one of the first "disco" records. So if Mr. Dibango is from Cameroon, was disco born there? More importantly, when disco was born, did baby angels weep glittery tears? The title single is also credited as a direct influence for Kool and the Gang's "Jungle Boogie," "Funky Stuff," and "Hollywood Swinging." Three huge hits! The use of repeated horn riffs is probably the most obvious influence, as is the funky rhythm bass combo. (The VVers own Kool and the Gang's album "Wild and Peaceful," but it never really saw much playtime. Upon listening to it after the Soul Makossa, there is a new found appreciation and it has been stuck in our heads all weekend!) Horns on "Soul Makossa" simply take it to another level. Manu Dibango sounds like he is rapping a bit; sort of spitting ideas left and right. He's just dancing and jive talking all over the place (Makossa means dance in the Duala language of Cameroon). The "Soul Makossa" single has been sampled a LOT, notably by Michael Jackson on "Wanna be Startin Something" from Thriller. The music is so good that it's easy to see why it's been sampled so much... I want to go sample it right now! It's surprising to find out that songs you thought were so original growing up were in fact deeply indebted to earlier music. These unexpected discoveries have led to an interesting backtracking education. "Soul Makossa" has been covered/adapted/sampled since its heyday so frequently. Apparently, the French '72 pressing was such a limited run that a disco hungry public could not get their hands on a copy. Before the inevitable repressing, "Soul Makossa" was aped and copied many times out of that intense musical hunger. The people needed their disco! Thus this reissue of the LP says "The Original" on it.
"New Bell" is full of chirpy, wailing horns reminiscent of sirens. While "Nights in Zeralda" is full of bongos and horns with a Middle Eastern snake-charmer vibe. Much psychedelic echo is laced through tracks. In most cases the tempo is up and jumping, but not all. The track "Hibiscus" on the tail end of side A is anything but that. It's a psychedelic, slow, contemplative track dripping with melancholy. The cadence and feel brings up thoughts of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, specifically "Time." In fact the track so closely resembles some parts of that classic record that the VVers had to do a side by side comparison. "Soul Makossa" came out one year prior... coincidence? That's one of the best parts about discovering a record that influenced so many others. Again, it's impossible not to notice other links to music you've known for years.
The VVers must admit that this has been a difficult-to-muster write-up. The sounds and instruments have been challenging to describe, probably because we just don't know enough world-music. Perhaps you should just go listen to it yourself. As the man accurately said "it got everyone moving." Recently upon VVer #2 having surgery and the parents visiting, the men-folk of the house went out to run errands while the women were at home about to embark on their post-surgery, low-fi exercises (the mother also recovering from an unrelated surgery). Exercises are always more enjoyable with music, right? On went the recently purchased Soul Makossa! It wasn't long before the women-folk threw out their ideas of stretches and reps and busted into an incredibly awkward dance party in the living room (mostly awkward because we were recovering from surgery, not because we are bad dancers (obviously!)). It was so ridiculous that laughing led to more dancing and dancing to more laughing -- the music was so hip-shakin it was hard to stop! Luckily the record side ended before the men walked in on the dance scene. Quite a memorable mother-daughter moment -- brought to you by the Soul Makossa!