Often described as the first disco record, Soul Makossa, by Cameroonian saxophonist Manu Dibango (who passed away this week), is also perhaps one of the most surprising, given its unusual rise to prominence.
As the story goes, New York DJ David Mancuso discovered the track in a Jamaican record store in Brooklyn in late 1972, following which it became a favourite among attendees at his legendary Loft parties (which themselves set the template for the discotheques to follow).
According to Rolling Stone magazine, Soul Makossa was an unlikely hit from the start, recorded as a B-side to commemorate Cameroon’s hosting of the 1972 African Cup of Nations.
As someone who remembers vividly the exploits of Roger Milla in the 1990 World Cup; I’m particularly fond of this telling of the track’s heritage.
Originally released on Fiesta, a French label that specialised in music from northern and central Africa, Soul Makossa was quickly licensed to major label Atlantic, where it became an afrobeat sensation… in the process influencing a young Michael Jackson, who borrowed the track’s vocal refrain, “ma-mako, ma-ma-sa, mako-mako ssa” for his hit Wanna Be Startin’ Something.
Legendary selector Greg Wilson paid tribute to the late Dibango on his blog, describing Soul Makossa’s lasting allure (read the full post here).
“Here in the UK, although the album never saw a release, Soul Makossa was issued as a single on the London label in ’72,” Wilson wrote.
“Being only 12 at the time, I’m unsure of whether it immediately took off with DJs here, or if its success in the US was the spur, but it was certainly enduring for, although never achieving a chart placing, by the time I started to DJ in 1975, three years on from its UK release, it was still very much a club favourite, an evergreen leftfield Funk favourite that has always retained its cool and forever ignites the dancefloor.”
Manu Dibango passed away on Tuesday at the age of 86.