The African saxophone legend Manu Dibango has died in Paris after catching coronavirus. Dibango – best known for his 1972 hit Soul Makossa – is one of the first global stars to die from Covid-19. The 86-year-old fused jazz and funk music with traditional sounds from his home country, Cameroon.
He collaborated with numerous artists over a long career, including US pianist Herbie Hancock and Nigeria’s Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti.
The Cameroonian musician filed a lawsuit in 2009 saying Michael Jackson had stolen a hook from his song, Soul Makossa, for two tracks on the world’s best-selling album, Thriller. Jackson settled the case out of court. Media caption Manu Dibango speaks about some of his memorable outings
“It is with deep sadness that we announce you the loss of Manu Dibango, our Papy Groove,” a statement on his official Facebook page read.
His funeral will take place in “strict privacy”, the statement read, asking instead for people to send condolences by email and adding that a tribute will be arranged “when possible”.
Top African musicians Angelique Kidjo and Youssou Ndour have led the tributes.
‘Giant of African music’
On Twitter, Kidjo shared a video, recorded two months ago, of her rehearsing the end of Soul Makossa with Dibango.
“You’re the original giant of African music and a beautiful human being,” the Beninois performer wrote.
Ndour called the Cameroonian a “genius” on the saxophone and described him as a “big brother, a pride for Cameroon and all of Africa”.
Both Ndour and Kidjo, along with other stars such as Salif Keita, Papa Wemba and King Sunny Ade, worked on Dibango’s 1992 album Wakafrika.
Speaking to the BBC in 2013 about how he wanted to be remembered, Dibango said: “When you are gone, it is finished, it is not up to me to say, ‘I want this.'”
Born in the Cameroonian city of Douala in 1933, which at the time was under French colonial rule, Dibango’s musical career spanned across more than six decades.
‘Raised in the Hallelujah’
He grew up in a religious Protestant family, the AFP news agency reports, and his first musical influences came from the church.
“I’m a child raised in the ‘Hallelujah’,” he is quoted as saying.
But he drew on many influences and was well known for his eclectic style.
“I play different kinds of music before playing my own. I think that that’s very important to play other people’s music,” he told the BBC in 2017.
“As you are African they expect you always to play African. Forget that. You’re not a musician because you’re African. You’re a musician because you are musician. Coming from Africa, but first, musician.”
He was sent to high school in France, which is where he learnt to play the saxophone.
The first tune he performed, in front of fellow students, was When the Saints Go Marching In, he told the BBC.
To the disappointment of his father, Dibango failed his high school exams and took up music performing in nightclubs in Belgium instead, AFP reports.
Manu Dibango, the Cameroonian musician celebrated for his blend of jazz, funk and traditional west African styles, has died aged 86 in a Paris hospital after contracting Covid-19.
A message on his Facebook page announced the news with “deep sadness”, and added: “His funeral service will be held in strict privacy, and a tribute to his memory will be organised when possible.”
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. “The blacks that we saw [in France] were either boxers like Sugar Ray Robinson – or jazzmen,” he remembered in a 2018 interview. “So, we ended up going down to the cellars in Paris, where we could see the [Louis] Armstrongs and the Count Basies with whom we identified.”
He moved to Brussels and toured Europe with Africa Jazz under bandleader Joseph Kabasele, and spent time in Congo and Cameroon before returning to Paris in 1965.
He blended the cosmopolitan styles from Africa and Europe into his own fusion, resulting in his biggest hit, Soul Makossa, with a blazing saxophone line over a breakbeat and Dibango’s spoken vocals, originally written for the 1972 African Cup of Nations football tournament.
The line “mama-say, mama-sa, ma-makossa” from Michael Jackson’s Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ was lifted from Dibango’s chorus on Soul Makossa – Dibango sued Jackson over the uncredited interpolation, winning an out of court settlement. In 2009, he took Jackson to court again along with Rihanna, whose track Don’t Stop the Music also uses the chorus line, but the complaint was deemed inadmissible.
Dibango went on to tour widely off the back of the track’s success, and collaborated with Hugh Masekela, Fela Kuti, Herbie Hancock and more. His tracks were also sampled by artists including Busta Rhymes and the Chemical Brothers. Musicians paying tribute include Angelique Kidjo, who said on Twitter: “You’re the original Giant of African Music and a beautiful human being.”