Influential Afro-funk pioneer Manu Dibango has passed away today from COVID-19, at the age of 86 years old in the city of Paris. The performer is best known for the 1972 hit song “Soul Makossa,” which was sampled by numerous artists from legendary pop star Michael Jackson all the way to Rihanna.
“Soul Makossa” is legendary for its funky beat and Dibango’s legendary saxophone playing, and would go on to become an early influence on the sounds of disco. The song eventually made its way to the United States, where it was being spun by DJ David Mancuso, before going on to become the first track by an African artist to become a Top 40 hit.
Jackson used the lyrics “mama-se, mama-sa, ma-makossa” from “Soul Makossa” in his hit song “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ ” from the best-selling album Thriller. Dibango took the pop star to court over the lyrics, although Jackson settled out of court. The performer also sued Rihanna over the use of the same lyrics in her hit song “Don’t Stop the Music,” although the earlier settlement caused the suit to fail.
Dibango was born in Douala, Cameroon on December 12th, 1933, and moved to France as a teenager so he could study to become an administrator like his father had. While in France the performer fell in love with American jazz, abandoning his former studied to pursue music, which caused his parents to cut him off financially.
After playing with various bands in France, Dibango made his way to Brussels, where he met up with legendary band leader Joseph “Grand Kallé” Kabasele, who would help jump start his career. Dibango eventually worked with many high profile artists such as Art Blakey, Herbie Hancock, Don Cherry, Sly and Robbie, Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel, King Sunny Adé, Youssou N’Dour, Hugh Masekela and Fela Kuti during his lengthy career.