Afro-Jazz star Manu Dibango, best known for his hit single “Soul Makossa,” has died in Paris after contracting the coronavirus, his family said on his Twitter account. He was 86.
Dibango, who was still performing extensively in France last year, informed fans that he was “calmly recovering” from the disease in hospital in a March 18 statement on his Facebook page.
Born in the Cameroonian port city of Douala in 1933, Emmanuel N’Djoké Dibango, who used Manu Dibango as his stage name, was renowned as a saxophonist and songwriter, and also played the vibraphone. His songs, which incorporated jazz, funk and traditional Cameroonian music, failed to capture local attention and he moved to France where he gained international recognition.
OH NON PAS TOI MANU DIBANGO. J’ai pas les mots pour traduire toute ma tristesse. Tu as été un grand frère, une fierté pour le Cameroun et pour l’Afrique toute entière. Une immense perte ! RIP le Roi de la Makossa et Génie de la Saxo. YN pic.twitter.com/XRJAeVLdiF— YOUSSOU NDOUR (@YoussouNdourSN) March 24, 2020
Released in 1972, “Soul Makossa” became an international hit. Its “Mama-say, mama-sa, ma-ma-ko-ssa” hook — which means “I dance” in the duala language — was sampled by various artists, including Michael Jackson and Rihanna. Dibango filed a lawsuit against the two artists in 2009, arguing that they had used the hook without this permission. The motion was rejected by a court in Paris because he had already successfully applied for his name to be mentioned on Rihanna’s releases of the song.
Dibango was a member of the seminal Congolese rumba group African Jazz and well-known for his collaborations with the late Nigerian Afrobeat star Fela Kuti, Nigerian guitarist King Sunny Adé and South African gospel group Ladysmith Black Mambazo.
Dibango achieved a considerable following in the U.K. with the disco hit “Big Blow,” and in 1998 he recorded the album CubAfrica with Cuban artist Eliades Ochoa.
Dibango was “a fatherly figure who was always ready to advise, hold the hand of younger musicians and lead them to success,” fellow musician and journalist Ateh Francis, also known as Bazore, said by phone from Cameroon.
“He was humble, soft spoken and always smiling. May his soul rest in peace and may he become the head of God’s orchestra,” Bazore said.