Internationally most-well known for his 1972 track ‘Soul Makossa‘, the saxophonist extraordinaire Manu Dibango, passed away in Paris Tuesday (the 24th) due to COVID-19 at the age of 86. Dibango’s representatives announced his death via social media after previously posting an update last Wednesday (the 18th) that the musician had been hospitalized due to the widespread coronavirus. A public memorial will be “organized when possible” according to the social media status.

Manu Dibango was born December 12th, 1933 in Douala, Cameroon, the son of a Yabassi father and Duala mother, which led to a mesh of cultures and languages that perhaps influenced Dibango’s musical stylings later on. His parent’s marriage was seen with disdain by both cultures, and Dibango stated in his 1994 autobiography “Three Kilos of Coffee” that he had “never been able to identify completely with either parent.” His musical trajectory was set at an early age after studying music through church and school, and at the age of 11 was apart of a colonial Cameroonian school chosen by French president Charles de Gaulle to perform the welcoming ceremonies for his arrival.

The beloved Afro-funk pioneer was a member of the iconic Congolese rumba group African Jazz and collaborated with innovative artists such as Fela Kuti, Herbie Hancock, Fania All Stars, Paul Simon, Don Cherry, and Eliades Ochoa to name a few. Dibango as aforementioned is most well-known for ‘Soul Makossa‘ a track mainly written in Duala (‘makossa’ is ‘dance’) and best remembered for it’s refrain “mama-say, mama-sa, ma-ma-ko-ssa”. The track was nominated for Grammys in the Best R&B Instrumental Performance and Best Instrumental Composition, influenced hits like Kool & The Gang’s ‘Jungle Boogie‘, and was sampled by artists such as Michael Jackson on ‘Wanna Be Startin’ Something‘ and Rihanna on ‘Don’t Stop the Music‘. Dibango filed suit against Jackson who admitted he “borrowed” the line and settled out of court, but the problem was brought up again in court after Rihanna asked Jackson for permission to sample the line in 2007. The request was approved but Dibango was never contacted. He told Fresh Air in 1990 on Jackson’s sampling, “I think he wanted to say hello to Africa somewhere.” Manu Dibango also served as the first chairman of the Cameroon Music Cooperation, dealing with high profile disputes about artists’ royalties.

On the subject of his homeland’s artistry, Dibango told The New York Times in 1995, “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.”

Among other career and life highlights: the vibraphonist opened a club, Tam-Tam, in then Léopoldville, Congo, now Kinshasa, Zaire; he was appointed a UNESCO Artist for Peace in 2004; his song ‘Reggae Makossa‘ was featured on the soundtrack of the 2006 video game “Scarface: The World Is Yours“, and he was made a Special Representative of Francophonia to the Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Check out & remember tracks such as ‘Soul Makossa‘ & ‘Sun Explosion‘ below.

Sarah Medeiros