“Je Suis Soul! A Tribute to African Soul and Jazz” presented a celebration of unity by highlighting the crosscurrents of African, French and American soul at the music’s New York home, the Apollo Theater. The Dec. 5 concert, featuring Manu Dibango, Salle Jean, Les Nubians, Ben L’Oncle Soul and San Francisco’s Monophonics, was the centerpiece of a weekend celebrating the 35th anniversary of the Jazz à Vienne Festival.
After a moment of silence for the victims of recent terrorist incidents, Ben L’Oncle Soul got it started with a crisp six-song set backed by the Bay Area band the Monophonics, a collaboration that began with Ben’s latest album, A Coupe de Reves. “You Got My Back,” from that album, and a cover of the Supremes’ “My World Is Empty Without You,” over a reggae-inflected rhythm, were stand-outs.
The Cameroonian/French sister-duet of Les Nubians followed, captivating the audience with their soaring vocal interplay and rhythmically fluid movement, anchored by a solid stream of funky beats from Shaun Kelly, drums; Fred Eugene Doumbe, bass; John Roggie, keyboards; Masaharu Shimizu, guitar; and Queen Aaminah, backing vocals.
The Soul Makossa Gang had already energized the crowd with a churning makossa rhythm that was completed when Manu Dibango stepped onto the Apollo stage for the first time since 1973, the constantly shifting tempos and rhythms complementing his playing. Then special guest Salle Jean took the music back to its Cameroonian roots. Jean, a renowned performer in the ambass-bey folk tradition, sang two songs and added a bit of folk dancing to the delight of the audience.
The three-hour show concluded with a Soul Makossa jam session that included all of the artists on the bill, joined by Kaissa, who once sang backup in his band. The Soul Makossa Gang included Raymond Doumbe, bass; Jacques Conti-Bilong, drums; Guy Nwogang, percussion; Patrick Marie-Magdelaine, guitar; Julien Agazar, keyboard; Valerie Belinga and Isabel Gonzalez, vocals.
You may also enjoy the “Best of The Beat on Afropop” feature on Manu Dibango.