The current coronavirus pandemic has claimed its first musical legend. As The Guardian reports, the Cameroonian jazz-funk great Manu Dibango has died in a Paris hospital after contracting Covid-19. A note on Dibango’s Facebook page announced his passing this morning. Dibango was 86.
Dibango was born in Cameroon, and he studied music in school. Beginning in the ’50s, Dibango moved to France and began performing jazz around Europe. Dibango, who played vibraphone and saxophone, became famous for the ways in which he combined jazz — and, eventually, funk — with more traditional African forms. In 1960, he became a founding member of African Jazz, a Zairean group. Dibango released his self-titled solo debut in 1968. And in 1972, he released the solo single “Soul Makossa,” the song for which he was best-known.
“Soul Makossa,” a lively and liquid funk song, caught on among American disco DJs, and it peaked at #35 on the Billboard Hot 100. Michael Jackson used the chanted “Soul Makossa” refrain — “mama-say mama-sa mama-ko-sa” — on “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” the opening track from his blockbuster 1983 album Thriller, and Rihanna then sampled Jackson’s part on her own 2007 single “Don’t Stop The Music.” (Dibango sued Jackson and Rihanna over the usage in 2009; Jackson settled out of court.)
Later on, Dibango scored a British disco hit with the 1976 single “Big Blow,” and he collaborated with artists like Fela Kuti and Herbie Hancock. He continued to record and tour well into his later years. He released his final album Balade En Saxo in 2013, and he was still playing live as recently as 2018. Below, watch some videos of Dibango in action: