Manu Dibango, Soulful Ambassador of African Music, Dies at 86 - Press "Enter" to skip to content

Manu Dibango, Soulful Ambassador of African Music, Dies at 86

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Manu Dibango, a saxophonist from Cameroon whose 1972 single “Soul Makossa” made modern African music a clear presence on Western pop charts, died on Tuesday in a hospital in France. He was 86.

His Facebook page said the cause was Covid-19.

Although “Soul Makossa” was named after makossa, a Cameroonian style of music, and its lyrics were in the Douala language of Cameroon, Mr. Dibango’s worldwide hit was an internationalist piece of funk.

With his terse, dryly insistent saxophone lines answering his own chanted vocals, a tricky stop-start beat and a scrubbing rhythm guitar, “Soul Makossa” arrived at the dawn of the disco era and made its way to dance floors and R&B radio stations across the United States, Europe and Africa.

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Michael Jackson would later quote its refrain in “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” a track on his 1983 album, “Thriller,” one of the best-selling records of all time; that song was in turn sampled by Rihanna for her 2007 “Don’t Stop the Music.” Mr. Dibango sued them both in 2009; Mr. Jackson’s estate settled out of court. The song has also been widely sampled in hip-hop.

Although Mr. Dibango was best known for “Soul Makossa” and a 1984 hit, “Abele Dance,” he had a prolific recording and touring career, appearing worldwide and collaborating with musicians including Herbie Hancock, Fela Kuti, Peter Gabriel, Angélique Kidjo, Youssou N’Dour, the Fania All-Stars and Sinead O’Connor. In a 2017 interview with the BBC, Mr. Dibango took pride in the eclecticism of his music.

“You’re not a musician because you’re African,” he said. “You’re a musician because you are musician. Coming from Africa, but first, musician.”

A complete obituary will be posted soon.

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