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Cameroon jazz-funk star, Manu Dibango bows to coronavirus

By By Gregory Austin Nwakunor with agency reports
25 March 2020   |   3:37 am
With the Coronavirus pandemic raging, Paris, the French capital, has now become the graveyard of African musicians, as in less than one week,

With the Coronavirus pandemic raging, Paris, the French capital, has now become the graveyard of African musicians, as in less than one week, two of the continent’s top-ranking artistes passed on in the city.

Only yesterday, African saxophone legend, Manu Dibango, succumbed to Coronavirus.

Last Thursday, Aurlus Mabele, the Congolese singer, who was called “the king of soukous,” the energetic dance hall music that blends traditional African and Caribbean rhythms with pop and soul, also died in Paris. He was 66.

Up until March 16, the City of Light, as Paris is known, was well behind the worst-hit regions of France in terms of coronavirus cases. That situation has swung around dramatically in the past week, with Greater Paris including Paris and its suburbs, emerging as France’s new COVID-19 epicentre.

The latest figures from the Public Health department show almost one third–6,200–of 19,856 confirmed cases in France, are in Greater Paris. This represents a big spike in infections for the region of 12 million inhabitants.

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In the past five days, the number of infections in France has almost doubled–up from 10,995 on March 19. But the virus hub is shifting ground.

More than 17,000 people globally have died from COVID-19, as the illness is officially known, while more than 392,000 infections have been confirmed in at least 177 countries and territories. Nearly 102,000 people have recovered from the coronavirus.

The 86-year-old fused jazz and funk music with traditional sounds from his home country, Cameroun.

“It is with deep sadness that we announce to you the loss of Manu Dibango, our Papy Groove,” a statement on his official Facebook page read and added: “His funeral service will be held in strict privacy, and a tribute to his memory will be organised when possible.”

Dibango was born in 1933 in Douala, Cameroun. He attended high school in France and began learning instruments: first the piano, then saxophone – for which he became best known – and vibraphone. “The blacks that we saw [in France] were either boxers like, Sugar Ray Robinson – or jazzmen,” he remembered in a 2018 interview. “So, we ended up going down to the cellars in Paris, where we could see the [Louis] Armstrongs and the Count Basies with whom we identified.”

He moved to Brussels and toured Europe with Africa Jazz under bandleader Joseph Kabasele, and spent time in Congo and Cameroun before returning to Paris in 1965.

He blended the cosmopolitan styles from Africa and Europe into his own fusion, resulting in his biggest hit, Soul Makossa, with a blazing saxophone line over a breakbeat and Dibango’s spoken vocals, originally written for the 1972 African Cup of Nations football tournament.

In 2009, the saxophonist filed a lawsuit claiming that Michael Jackson stole a hook from his song, Soul Makossa, for two songs on the world’s best-selling album, Thriller. The line ‘mama-say, mama-sa, ma-makossa’ from Michael Jackson’s Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin was lifted from Dibango’s chorus on Soul Makossa – Dibango sued Jackson over the uncredited interpolation, winning an out-of-court settlement. In 2009, he also took Rihanna to court for the track Don’t Stop the Music, but the complaint was deemed inadmissible.

Dibango went on to tour widely off the back of the track’s success and collaborated with such notable stars as South Africa’s Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Hugh Masekela, Fela Kuti, Herbie Hancock and more. Artists including Busta Rhymes and the Chemical Brothers also sampled his tracks.

Musicians paying tribute include Angelique Kidjo, who said on Twitter: “You’re the original Giant of African Music and a beautiful human being.”

For Mabele, his daughter, the singer Liza Monet, confirmed the musician’s death at a hospital. She said her father had contracted the coronavirus. He had had a stroke a few years ago and had been in fragile health.

“My dad died of coronavirus this morning … Thank you for honoring his memory. He is a great legend of the Soukouss that the Congolese people are losing today. I am inconsolable and collapsed,” Monet, who is also a rapper, wrote on Twitter.

Claudy Siar, the presenter of Radio France International’s “Couleurs Tropicales” Afro music programme, also paid tribute to the singer known as the “King of Soukous”, a high-tempo modern variant of Congolese rumba.

His former bandmate, Mav Cacharel, also mourned his loss on Facebook, paying tribute to a man that sold more than 10 million records and had a huge following across Africa.

Mabele rose to fame across Africa in the 1970s and ’80s with his up-tempo hits and high-wattage performances highlighted by spectacular dance moves. In his early 20s, he founded the musical group, Les Ndimbola Lokole, in Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of Congo, gaining popularity with recordings of songs like Waka Waka and Zebola.

After moving to France in the 1980s, he helped start the band, Loketo, which means ‘hips’ in Lingala, the language spoken in parts of both the Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo. As the group’s lead singer, Mabele worked alongside the renowned guitarist Diblo Dibala.

The band thrived on developing and playing soukous, a modern variation of the Congolese rumba music. The word soukous is derived from the French word “secouer,” which means, “to shake,” and as Mabele’s band Loketo gained fame, the genre took hold in dance halls around the world, including in France.

Before breaking up in the 1990s, the band recorded bouncy songs like “Extra Ball,” “Douce Isabelle” and “Choc a Distance” and sold millions of albums worldwide. The group toured Africa, Europe, the Caribbean and the United States.

Mabele was born Aurélien Miatsonama on October 24, 1953, in Brazzaville. In addition to Ms. Monet (who was born Alexandra Marie), his survivors include 12 other children.

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