K-Chuck Radio: The Evolution of Manu Dibango and Soul Makossa

Manu Dibango passed away yesterday from complications from COVID-19.  He was 86.  He lived a long life and he was a beloved musician.

And he will always be known for one of the funkiest world hits of the 1970’s, “Soul Makossa.”

Dibango originally recorded the song as a tribute to the success of his native land, Cameroon, and that country’s appearance in the Africa Cup of Nations soccer tournament.  The song itself was quite popular throughout Africa and Europe, but did not initially have an American release.

Eventually an import copy of “Soul Makossa” landed in the hands of two men – a New York City club DJ, who packed the floor every time he played the song in his club; and Frankie Crocker, who played the song as part of his WBLS radio show.

But with no American official release, it was not unusual for other studio groups to record their version of “Soul Makossa.”  Such as this one by the Nairobi Afro Band.

And by the time Atlantic Records finally put out their own USA-licensed version of “Soul Makossa,” it was competing for airplay with a “Soul Makossa” version by the studio group Afrique.

Here’s Dibango’s edited version for radio airplay –

And here’s the version by Afrique.

By the mid-1980’s, “Soul Makossa” came back to life as a hip-hop track, recorded in two versions by the NYC techno-hip-hop pairing of Arthur Baker and John Robie.  They produced their version first under the name of “Nairobi.”  Trust me, this has no connection to the Nairobi Afro Band, other than they both recorded the song.

Yep … sounds just like the SoulSonic Force or the Jonzun Crew.  In addition to this version, Baker and Robie produced their own rap version of “Soul Makossa,” featuring a quartet known as the Awesome Foursome.

There’s some other places where you might find the “Soul Makossa” reference.  During the time when K.C. and the Sunshine Band were playing their Cuban-tinged “Junkanoo” style, they slid in a bit of “Soul Makossa” horn riff here and there in their song “Do It Good.”

Take a listen to the last minute of Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'” and you can hear that he borrowed enough of “Soul Makossa” to ensure that Manu Dibango could sue for it.  And Dibango did sue.  And Dibango did win.

The Soul Makossa sound was also borrowed by Rihanna, who used it as a piece of her hit “Please Don’t Stop the Music.”  And again, Dibango sued.  And this time, he lost.  well, you win some, you lose some.

Look, if you’re going to make “Soul Makossa” evolve, you have to be Manu Dibango.  In 1994, he did a reinterpretation of “Soul Makossa,” called “Mouvement Ewondo,” for one of his albums.

One of the final versions of “Soul Makossa” came as part of a Manu Dibango collaboration with the group Les Nubians, and it’s super-funky.

Rest in peace, Manu Dibango, and thank you for all your music and the love you shared for your country.

And thank you for all you’ve recorded – including that fantastic funky song that never gets old.