DeepSoul, Sampled Edition: Manu Dibango - "Soul Makossa"

Think you've never heard this pioneering dance track? You have--and probably never knew it.
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For the next few weeks, DeepSoul salutes what is widely considered the backbone of rap, hip hop, and modern R&B: sampling. Initially controversial, sampling has transformed into a largely accepted practice--so long as the new artist awards credit to the original performer and track. What better way to kick off this series than with one of the most heavily sampled tracks in music history: Manu Dibango's infectious "Soul Makossa"? The 1972 single's exotic beat, saxophone solo, and "Mama koo mama sa maka makoosa" chant have appeared in a staggering number of tracks, most famously in Michael Jackson's "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'." While not a huge hit upon its initial release, the jazz saxophonist's slice of funk has become a modern classic.

Born in Douala, Cameroon, Dibango enjoyed a relatively multicultural upbringing. In addition to speaking Yabassi and Duala, the languages of his parents' tribes, he learned French at his colonial school. His interest in music piqued at school, he began his career in the 1950s, living and performing in France, Belgium, Jamacia, Zaire, and Cote d'Ivoire, according to AllMusic. He co-founded the Zaire-based African Jazz band in 1960, eventually parting with the group to forge a solo career. Indeed, he started his solo years with a bang--his 1972 album Soul Makossa gained critical acclaim and scored a minor hit with the title track. Its success was not immediate; the album began life as a French import, with "Soul Makossa" gradually gaining the attention of Harlem clubgoers. Atlantic Records learned of the obscure record's popularity in discotheques and private dance clubs such as New York's legendary Loft, and promptly bought the track and album for American distribution. By 1973, "Soul Makossa" had reached the mainstream, peaking at number 21 on the R&B charts and 35 on the Hot 100.

The song may have subsequently vanished from the charts, but its impact still lingers. Its African rhythms introduced world music to the dance clubs (appropriately, "makossa" means "dance" in Duala), while Dibango's sax solo seamlessly melds jazz and funk. The memorable chant has been referenced in countless songs, initially without proper credit. After hearing an adaptation of the chant in the aforementioned Jackson song, he sued the entertainer and eventually reached an out-of-court settlement. Today, hip hop and soul artists pay proper homage to a true pioneer of Afro-dance music.

The following list represents just a handful of songs that have sampled or referenced "Soul Makossa":

  • Michael Jackson - "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin" (1982)
  • Black Riot (Todd Terry) - "A Day in the Life" (1988)
  • Kool Moe Dee - "Pump Your Fist" (1989)
  • Will Smith - "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It" (1997)
  • Jennifer Lopez featuring Big Pun and Fat Joe - "Feelin' So Good" (video version, 1999)
  • Rihanna - "Don't Stop the Music" (2007)
  • Kanye West featuring Bon Iver - "Lost in the World" (2010)

Today, Dibango's dance anthem sounds as fresh as it did in 1972, and its influence looms large over the contemporary R&B landscape.