The Cameroonian rhythm that set the world on fire

Mama-ko, mama-ssa, makomako-ssa.

This inimitable chant comes from Emmanuel N’Djoké “Manu” Dibango’s iconic 1972 hit Soul Makossa. It was initially a B-side he recorded for the African Cup of Nations, which was being hosted in his home country of Cameroon that year.

Dibango is the most sampled African artist of all time, with more than 125 samples and covers recorded, according to Sample Chief, a digital platform dedicated to African music.

Soul Makossa was embraced by many African-Americans who had begun embracing their African roots, catalysed by the “Black is Beautiful” movement and the TV show Soul Train which was beginning to gain mainstream attention.

It became a huge hit in the United States, but because there weren’t many released copies of the track, it was covered by numerous bands. At one point there were nine versions of Soul Makossa on Billboard’s global charts.


Legendary US group Kool and the Gang’s 1973 megahit Hollywood Swinging was inspired by the track, and Beyoncé used it in live performances in 2018. Both Michael Jackson and Rihanna have faced legal action for interpolating Dibango’s famous phrase without permission.

Primarily written in the Duala language, the song plays with the word “makossa”, which loosely means “I dance”. The legendary saxophonist and songwriter released more than 70 albums in the six decades he was active and is regarded as a pioneer of afro-jazz and afro-funk music. Dibango passed away in March after contracting Covid-19.

This article first appeared on The Continent, the new pan-African weekly newspaper designed to be read and shared on WhatsApp. Download your free copy here.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Refiloe Seiboko
Subeditor at Mail & Guardian

Related stories

Why anti-corruption campaigns are bad for democracy

Such campaigns can draw attention to the widespread presence of the very behaviour they are trying to stamp out — and subconsciously encourage people to view it as appropriate

The European companies that armed the Ivorian civil war

AN OCCRP investigation reveals that Gunvor and Semlex brokered weapons-for-oil deals in early 2011 when Côte d’Ivoire was in crisis, despite a UN arms embargo

Johannesburg cannot police its future

South Africa’s biggest city is ground zero for debates about the long-term effectiveness and constitutionality of militarised urban policing and how we imagine the post-Covid city

Fearless Burundi MP suffers in jail

Fabien Banciryanino, who challenged state on political murders, detained in notorious prison

Baby Awa: The miracle baby born on a boat fleeing Mozambique’s violence

More than 300 000 people in the north of the country have been displaced by militants who ransack villages and then burn them down.

Five suspects arrested in Senzo Meyiwa case

Police minister Bheki Cela announced on Monday that his team has arrested five suspects who were allegedly involved in the killing of former Bafana Bafana captain Senzo Meyiwa.
Advertising

Subscribers only

Toxic power struggle hits public works

With infighting and allegations of corruption and poor planning, the department’s top management looks like a scene from ‘Survivor’

Free State branches gun for Ace

Parts of the provincial ANC will target their former premier, Magashule, and the Free State PEC in a rolling mass action campaign

More top stories

Why anti-corruption campaigns are bad for democracy

Such campaigns can draw attention to the widespread presence of the very behaviour they are trying to stamp out — and subconsciously encourage people to view it as appropriate

Tax, wage bill, debt, pandemic: Mboweni’s tightrope budget policy statement

The finance minister has to close the jaws of the hippo and he’s likely to do this by tightening the country’s belt, again.

SA justice delays extradition of paedophile to UK

Efforts to bring Lee Nigel Tucker to justice have spanned 16 years and his alleged victims have waited for 30 years

Former state security minister Bongo back in court

Bongo and his co-accused will appear in the Nelspruit magistrate’s court in Mpumalanga over charges of fraud, corruption and theft
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday