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Manu Dibango, African Jazz Legend who influenced Michael Jackson dies at age 86

The Cameroonian multi-instrumentalist and singer celebrated for his blend of jazz, funk and traditional west African styles, and best known for his hits “Soul Makossa” and “Big Blow”, died aged 86 in a hospital near Paris.  His death, according to a statement on his official Facebook page, was due to complications of the coronavirus.

“Giant of African Music”, Dibango was born in 1933 in Douala, Cameroon. He attended high school in France and began learning instruments: first the piano, then saxophone – for which he became best known – and vibraphone. 

One of the pioneers of Afro-Jazz, over the course of his decades-spanning career, the prolific Dibango often released multiple albums in a single year, still recording as recently as 2017. He collaborated with the likes of Fela Kuti, with Hugh Masekela, Herbie Hancock, Fania All Stars, Bernie Worrell and more. He influenced bands from Kool and the Gang in the 1970s to numerous hip-hop hits. His influence – counting his unmatched mastery of the saxophone – was undoubtedly far and wide that it helped power songs by Michael Jackson and Rihanna. 

The Cameroonian legend sued Michael Jackson over unlawfully adopting his lyrics for the line “‘mama-say, mama-sa, ma-makossa’ from Michael Jackson’s ‘Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ lifted from Dibango’s chorus on “Soul Makossa”. Michael Jackson settled the case out of court.  “From there, the chant would become a hip-hop staple, appearing on tracks like Kanye West’s “Lost in the World,” Will Smith’s “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It,” A Tribe Called Quest’s “Rhythm (Devoted to the Art of Moving Butts)” and Jay-Z’s “Face-Off.” Rihanna would also famously sample the track for her 2002 hit, “Don’t Stop the Music.”

“The artistic migration is going elsewhere,” Dibango said in a 1995 interview with The New York Times, speaking of the African scene becoming a global phenomenon. “You cannot separate culture from politics. In my opinion, the entire Franco-African political game is changing. Africa is no longer a collection of ex-colonies. Africa is Africa.”


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