R.I.P. Manu Dibango, Afro-Jazz Saxophonist Behind “Soul Makossa”, Dies at 86 Due to COVID-19

Cameroonian musician worked with Herbie Hancock and Fela Kuti, and sued Michael Jackson for stealing his lyrics

Manu Dibango death jazz saxophonist michael jackson

Cameroonian afro-jazz saxophonist Manu Dibango has died after contracting COVID-19. The 86-year-old musician is one of the first high-profile stars to die due to the novel coronavirus.

The announcement of Dibango’s passing was made on his official Facebook page. “A voice raises from far away…,” reads the post. “It is with deep sadness that we announce you the loss of Manu Dibango, our Papy Groove, who passed away on 24th of March 2020, at 86 years old, further to COVID-19.”

Described by Angelique Kidjo as “the original Giant of African Music,” Dibango first picked up the saxophone after moving from Cameroon to attend high school in France. Over the course of his six-decade career, he released over 70 albums and is credited with changing the perception of African music around the world.

In a 1995 interview with The New York Times (via Pitchfork), Dibango said,

“African music was in a museum for a long time. People said, ‘Africans have rhythm in their blood, everybody’s a musician down there.’ But the music stayed behind the tom-tom. It did not open itself up to the world. Africa only came to the world through its past, never its present.”

Raised in the music of the church (“raised in the ‘Hallelujah,'” as he would say), Dibango’s fusion of African rhythms with jazz and funk sounds made him an international star. He collaborated with the likes of Fela Kuti, Herbie Hancock, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, King Sunny Adé, and others. His music was also often sampled by other artists, though not always with his permission.

In 2009, Dibango sued Michael Jackson for using parts of his 1972 hit song “Soul Makossa” in the Thriller opener “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'”. The sax player claimed the pop star’s line “mama-say, mama-sa, ma-ma-ko-ssa” was an uncredited interpolation of “Soul Makossa”. The lyric was then sampled again by Rihanna for 2007’s “Don’t Stop the Music”. Jackson reportedly admitted to borrowing the line and settled out of court.

Other artists to sample “Soul Makossa” include Kanye West on “Lost in the World”, Public Enemy on “Can’t Truss It”, and JAY-Z on “Face Off”. Meanwhile, The Chemical Brothers used Dibango’s “Ceddo” on “Battle Scars, and Afrika Bambaataa and Soulsonic Force’s “Renegades of Funk” features a sample of “Weya”.

Find the full post announcing Dibango’s death below, followed by a few live highlights.


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