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.

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Refiloe Seiboko
Subeditor at Mail & Guardian

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