Thursday, April 9, 2020

    Afro-Jazz Star Manu Dibango Dead at 86

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    Manu Dibango, the afro-jazz great behind hits including “Soul Makossa,” died Tuesday morning (March 24) from COVID-19, the BBC and AFP report. He was 86. “A voice raises from far away,” a statement on his Facebook page began. “It is with deep sadness that we announce you the loss of Manu Dibango, our Papy Groove.” There will be a private funeral service before a tribute is held “when possible,” according to the statement.

    Born in Cameroon, Dibango attended high school in France, where he picked up the saxophone, as well as playing piano and vibraphone. His career spanned more than six decades, including work with Fela Kuti, Peter Gabriel, and Herbie Hancock. “African music was in a museum for a long time,” he told The New York Times in 1995. “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.”

    Dibango helped change the perception of African jazz and open it to a global audience. He soundtracked several French films and scored UK chart hits with songs such as “Abele Dance.” Written as the B-side to a song for the 1972 African Cup of Nations football tournament, “Soul Makossa” paired Dibango’s vocals with a funky sax line. After winning favor with New York DJs, it became a global success.

    A take on the song’s hook, “ma-mako, ma-ma-sa, mako-mako ssa,” appeared in Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Starting Something”; Dibango later sued and won an out-of-court settlement after Jackson admitted to interpolating the lyric. Legions more artists sampled or interpolated “Soul Makossa,” including Kanye West (“Lost in the World”), JAY-Z (“Face Off”), and Public Enemy (“Can’t Truss It”), as well as other Dibango songs such as “Ceddo” (the Chemical Brothers’ “Battle Scars”) and “Weya” (Afrika Bambaataa and Soulsonic Force’s “Renegades of Funk”).

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