Soul Makossa, a 1973 song by the Cameroonian multi-instrumentalist, Manu Dibango, is one of the few singles to break out of the world music ghetto and really play a part in shaping Western popular music.
It helped to give birth to disco in New York, and provided Michael Jackson with a vocal hook for one of his best songs, a hook that has itself been sampled and referenced by artists as diverse as Boy George, Eminem, The Bloodhound Gang, and Rhianna. And J- Lo. And Kanye West. And Will Smith. And…well, you get the idea.
Manu Dibango is not only a brilliant saxophonist and vibraphone player, he is a songwriter of the highest calibre. If I had to think of one word to describe his music it would be “tasteful.” Even at its funkiest (and it does get funky) his music has a smoothness that’s testament to his love of jazz, particularly his early love for Sidney Bechet. Check out the Afrobeat/funk/soul hybrid of 1975’s Lagos Go Slow.
Manu Dibango’s career coincided with a very optimistic time for many Africans, and his modern, cool, Westernised sound marked him out as a favourite with the partying classes, in Africa, and in Europe. His big break in America came with the release of Soul Makossa in 1973. It was written as a B-side to a more traditionally African song, but after David Mancuso got hold of it in New York, and played it incessantly at his famous loft parties, the song grew into a radio and club favourite, and is sometimes called the first ever disco record. A quick succession of inferior cover versions came out hot on its heels, but here Manu’s brilliant original.
The most famous reworking of Soul Makossa has to be Michael Jackson’s referencing of the vocal refrain (mama sa mama sa ma makossa) at the end of his 1982 single Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin ‘ (Michael Jackson was apparently terrified of the letter “g”)
This reworking has proved to be a goldmine of inspiration for other pop types over the years, from cheeky chappy Will Smith to modern sex-droid Rhianna.
Another 1982 release has a similarly far-reaching effect among hip-hop artists, when Nairobi feat. The Awesome Foursome unleashed Funky Soul Makossa on the world, directly sampling sections of Dibango’s original. Their particular reworking has been sampled by Cyprus Hill, and Schoolly D, among many others.
It was tough to decide which of the forty odd reworking of Soul Makoosa to post, but I decided in the end to share Schoolly D’s Mama Feel Good, a reworking of a reworking, mainly because you don’t hear enough about him nowadays. He’s credited with being the first ever gangsta rapper, and is perhaps best known for collaborations with filmmaker Abel Ferrara (Bad Lieutenant, King Of New York etc.)