He has collaborated with many musicians, including Fania All Stars, Fela Kuti, Herbie Hancock, Bill Laswell, Bernie Worrell, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Don Cherry, and Sly and Robbie. In 1998 he recorded the album CubAfrica with Cuban artist Eliades Ochoa .
His Soul Makossa is often considered the first disco record. The song of the same name on that record contains the lyrics "makossa", which means "(I) dance" in his native tongue, the Cameroonian language, Duala). It has influenced several popular music hits, including Michael Jackson's "Wanna be Startin' Somethin", as well as his re-recording of that song with Akon, the Fugees' "Cowboys", and Rihanna's "Don't Stop the Music".The 1982 parody song "Boogie In Your Butt" by comedian Eddie Murphy interpolates Soul Makossa's bassline and horn charts while "Butt Naked Booty Bless" by 1990s hip hop group Poor Righteous Teachers heavily samples its musical bridge and drum patterns.
Dibango's uncle was the leader of his extended family. Upon his death, Dibango's father refused to take over, as he never fully initiated his son into the Yabassi's customs. Throughout his childhood, Dibango slowly forgot the Yabassi language in favor of the Duala. However, his family did live in the Yabassi encampment on the Bassa plateau, close to the Wouri River in central Douala. While a child, Dibango attended Protestant church every night for religious education, or nkouaida. He enjoyed studying music there, and reportedly was a fast learner.
After being educated at his village school, in 1941 Dibango was accepted into "the white man's school", from the compound. While there, he was forced to learn French. He admired the teacher, whom he described as "an extraordinary draftsman and painter. In 1944, French president Charles de Gaulle chose this school to perform the welcoming ceremonies upon his arrival in Cameroon.