Manu Dibango's signature song, "Soul Makossa," resides permanently in the collective gut of funksters around the world, as fresh now as it was when it first appeared at the top of the U.S. charts in the early '70s.
On Saturday night at a half-full Warner Theatre, the Camerounian saxophonist stepped onto a Washington stage for the first time in 13 years. He brought with him a formidable band -- singers, dancers, horn players, percussionists, guitarists and more -- as well as a driving, polyrhythmic sound. Dibango's music is a well-blended mishmash of hard funk, soul and jazz, all latticed with irresistible Central- and West African rhythms. Unfortunately, at times the end result is confusion -- too many musical ideas get washed up against one another and all end up diluted.
More often, though, Dibango's skills as a composer and player carry him to dizzy heights of percussive complexity and tight ensemble work. Above all else, Dibango knows how to construct a monster groove, and the show's highlight came when his band finally kicked into "Makossa." As Dibango lashed away at that song's instantly familiar staccato sax line, one could finally sense the welcome kinesis of audience and band converging. Too bad there weren't more people there to enjoy it.