From Cameroon To New York And Beyond

Taking a look at the Billboard Hot 100 released thirty-eight years ago today – on June 9, 1973 – I spotted a title that seemed worth digging into: At No. 96, in its first week on the chart, was “Soul Makossa” by the group Afrique. The title seemed a little familiar; the group’s name less so. So I made my way to YouTube and was lucky enough to find the tune posted:

While the tune played, I checked what Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles had to say about the record. Afrique was, the book says, an R&B-jazz studio band formed in Los Angeles. Of the thirteen names listed – including five guys on percussion – I recognized only the name of bass player Chuck Rainey (which says more, I am sure, about my ignorance than about the band members’ prominence).

The record was the only hit for the band, eventually reaching No. 47. A little more digging online alerted me to the existence of an album by Afrique, also titled Soul Makossa. The blog Just Funked mentions the single of the same title by Manu Dibango and offers some background (and download links for Afrique’s album) here.

By now very intrigued, I went back to YouTube and found “Soul MaKossa” by Manu Dibango. (“Makossa” is misspelled in the graphic, and I think the upper-case “K” is unnecessary.)

While that played, I ran off to Wikipedia. There, I learned:

“Soul Makossa” is a 1972 single by Cameroonian makossa saxophonist Manu Dibango. It is often cited as one of the first disco records. In 1972 David Mancuso found a copy in a Brooklyn West Indian record store and often played it at his Loft parties. The response was so positive that the few copies of “Soul Makossa” in New York City were quickly bought up. The song was subsequently played heavily by Frankie Crocker, who DJed at WBLS, then New York’s most popular black radio station. Since the original was then unfindable, at least 23 groups quickly released cover versions to capitalize on the demand for the record. Atlantic eventually licensed the song from the French record label Fiesta. Their release of it peaked at #35 on the Billboard chart in 1973; in 1999 Dave Marsh wrote that it was “the only African record by an African” to crack the top 40. . . . It became “a massive hit” internationally as well.

(For those interested, the word “makossa” means “dance” in the Duala language spoken by the Duala people of Cameroon, according to Wikipedia, which also notes that “makossa” has been used to identify “a type of music that is most popular in urban areas in Cameroon.”)

Manu Dibango’s version of “Soul Makossa” entered the Billboard Hot 100 on June 23, 1973, two weeks later than Afrique’s version. It eventually went to No. 35, as noted above, and hit No 21 on the R&B chart.

(Wikipedia says at one point that “there were nine different versions of the song in the Billboard chart,” but Top Pop Singles lists only the versions by Dibango and Afrique. Perhaps there were versions in other Billboard charts beyond the Hot 100, and the Wikipedia entry simply needs an “s” appended to the word “chart.” I really don’t know. And in another category of things I don’t know, I’m not certain that the version of “Soul Makossa” in the Dibango video above is the original; in digging around this morning, I’ve seen multiple versions. Based on a few bits of information I came across, I think it is the version that sparked listeners’ interest in 1972-73, but I could very well have guessed wrong.)

After “Soul Makossa,” the studio group Afrique never got into the Hot 100 again. Dibango had one more single come close: “Dangwa” bubbled under the chart at No. 109 in late 1973.

Given Dibango’s prominence elsewhere in the word, of course, he didn’t need any more American hits to be a success. But according to the data at All-Music Guide, he had a few things chart: In 1973, the album Soul Makossa went to No. 79 in the Billboard 200 and to No. 11 on the R&B Albums chart. A year later the album Makossa Man went to No. 27 on the R&B Albums chart. To round out the Billboard chart history for Dibango – which is, of course, only a small part of his story – his 1994 album Wakafrika went to No. 3 on the World Music Albums chart.

So, as frequently happens when I dig into the lower levels of a Billboard chart, I learn stuff I never knew before.

I may be back tomorrow. A quick glance at the Billboard Hot 100 from June 10, 1967, was intriguing, and I may be able to dig into that. Otherwise, see you Saturday!

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One Response to “From Cameroon To New York And Beyond”

  1. […] says Joel Whitburn in his Top Pop Singles, was a jazz sessions drummer and was also a member of Afrique, the group whose “Soul Makossa” would go to No. 47 in the summer of 1973. Humphrey and his […]

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