Manu Dibango – Soul Makossa

20th May 2021 · 1970s, 1972, Disco, Funk, Music

If this doesn’t get your feet moving, you might want to check they’re still attached to your legs. As infectious as an Indian variant, it’s arguably the first disco hit.
Since its release in 1972 it’s also been a key part of two other big hits – both of them leading to law suits after Soul Makossa’s chorus was “borrowed” by Michael Jackson and Rihanna.

Manu Dibango’s funky slice of proto-disco was recorded at least two years before the oft-cited first disco hit Rock Your Baby by George McRae and a huge hit on US radio and in New York nightclubs, where it set off “dance battles”.

Ten years later its chorus – “Ma-ma-se, ma-ma-sa, ma-ma-kossa”- was stolen by Michael Jackson a decade later for his hit single Wanna Be Startin’ Something, which also appeared on Thriller – the biggest selling album of all time.

I might have said ‘borrowed’ but Jackson didn’t seek or obtain permission from Dibango, didn’t credit the Cameroon musician on the record, and only acknowledged the theft when Dibango’s lawyers threatened to bring a plagiarism case to court.

Eventually Jackson settled out of court (not the last time he would use his wealth to see off allegations that might have damaged his career). But his chicanery didn’t end there.

Dibango was then screwed over again when Rihanna sampled the same hook on her 2007 song Don’t Stop The Music. Perhaps unaware of its origin, Ri-Ri asked permission from Jackson, who generously agreed – but failed to explain where he had got it from in the first place.

This time Dibango’s lawyers took the case to court in 2009, suing both singers for €500,000 in damages and asking for the respective record companies to be barred from receiving income from either record until the case was resolved.

However, the Paris judge ruled that Dibango’s claim was inadmissable because he had waived his right to further damages after a previous case, a year earlier, when a different French judge ordered Rihanna’s label, Universal, to include Dibango’s name on the credits of future French releases of Don’t Stop The Music.

The eagle-eared might also notice that the song was an influence on Jungle Boogie by Kool & The Gang – and probably plenty more disco hits. Sadly, Dibango died of Covid-19 in March 2020 at the age of 86.