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Manu Dibango (1933–2020), jazz musician, died of COVID-19

by Linnea Crowther

Manu Dibango was a saxophonist, vibraphonist, and songwriter from Cameroon who was known for mixing traditional African music with jazz and funk. His 1972 song “Soul Makossa” was an international hit.

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Died: March 24, 2020 (Who else died on March 24?)

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Details of death: Died at a hospital in France of complications of COVID-19 at the age of 86.


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Musical career: Having grown up in Cameroon, Dibango attended high school in France, where he learned to play the saxophone. After leaving school, he began playing in Belgian nightclubs, then he became a member of the Congolese rumba group African Jazz. As a solo artist, Dibango collaborated with other notable musicians including Fela Kuti, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Youssou Ndour, and Bernie Worrell. His “Soul Makossa” was a Top 40 hit in 1973 and was widely covered by other artists. Its chanted refrain, “mama ko, mama sa, maka makossa,” was adapted by Michael Jackson for his 1983 hit “Wanna Be Startin’ Something” and again by Rihanna for her 2007 “Don’t Stop the Music.”  In 2009, Dibango sued both artists for using the hook without permission. Jackson admitted he borrowed the line and settled out of court.

Dibango on fusing different styles of music into his own: “I think that’s very important to play other people’s music. 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’re musician. Coming from Africa, but first, musician.” —from a 2017 interview with the BBC

What people said about him: “Dear Manu Dibango, you’ve always been there for me from my beginnings in Paris to this rehearsal just two months ago! You’re the original Giant of African Music and a beautiful human being. This coda of Soul Makossa is for you!” —musician Angelique Kidjo

“Manu Dibango, born N’Djoke Dibango an extraordinary musician, songwriter, saxophone player in a unique style fusing African jazz & funk. A true friend… a kind hearted man, I am sorry you left so soon… we shall miss you! Our hearts are broke, Africa will miss you.” —Angolan businesswoman Isabel Dos Santos

“Rest well jazz musician Manu Dibango who lost his life to coronavirus. Today, we jam to your music.” —filmmaker Mmabatho Montsho

Full obituary: BBC

Related lives:

  • Joseph Shabalala (1941 – 2020), founder of Ladysmith Black Mambazo
  • Fela Kuti (1938 – 1997), Nigerian Afrobeat musician
  • Bernie Worrell (1944 – 2016), founding member of Parliament-Funkadelic

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