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Mates’ Crates: Afrique – Soul Makossa

Written by on 6th September 2020

Mates’ Crates, a series headed up by our friend Andrei Sandu, dives into the tales behind records and digs deeper into our connections to music. These are not reviews, they’re stories. An iconic track to both dance and hip-hop this time with Afrique’s version of “Soul Makossa”. 

Label: Pye International  | Year: 1973 | Discogs: Afrique – Soul Makossa

A great find from my first dig in a real record shop after lockdown, Afrique’s version of Manu Dibango’s seminal “Soul Makossa”.

Cameroonian saxophonist Manu Dibango released the original “Soul Makossa” in 1972 as the B-side for “Hymne de la 8e Coupe d’Afrique des Nations“, a song celebrating Cameroon’s national football team making it to the quarter finals of the Africa Cup of Nations. Most of the track – including the now-famous chanted refrain – is in Duala, a local dialect.

After David Mancuso discovered and played Dibango’s original at his Loft parties, the few copies of the record in New York City were quickly bought up. To capitalise on booming demand for the rare track, over twenty groups released cover versions over the next few years.

I found one of these – by Los Angeles 13-piece Afrique – for a pound while digging a few weeks ago. Most of these cover versions are considered to fall under the genre of “exotica”: Western artists’ not-always-welcome takes on sounds from far away lands. For a bit more on that, check out an earlier column on Japanese trio “Yellow Magic Orchestra” and their subversive cover of Archie Bell’s “Tighten Up”, parodying exotica, Orientalism and Western conceptions of Japan.

Following the success of “Soul Makossa” and its variants, the original was soon licensed by Atlantic Records, peaking at #35 on the US Billboard Hot 100 the following year. It’s interesting to see how what used to take months and years is now often done in days.

Interestingly, Lafayette Afro Rock Band’s 1973 album “Soul Makossa” (of which the lead single is a cover of Manu Dibango) is one of the most sampled albums in hip-hop, with “Darkest Light” used by Jay Z on “Show Me What You Got“; “Hihache” used by LL Cool J on “Jingling Baby” and “Baba-Hya” used on Gorillaz’s “Dirty Harry“.

Speaking of Samples, Dibango’s iconic chant began to resurface around a decade later, most famously on Michael Jackson’s 1982 hit “Wanna Be Startin’ Somthin’” and, in turn, Rihanna’s 2007 “Don’t Stop The Music“. In 2009, Dibango filed a lawsuit against both Jackson and Rihanna for their use of the sample. Rihanna had asked Jackson for permission, but Dibango was not consulted. Whereas Jackson settled out of court, a Paris court dropped the case against Rihanna as Dibango’s name had been credited on the release.

Beyond those – and hopefully with permission – the chant has been used by Kanye West, Will Smith, A Tribe Called Quest, Childish Gambino, Beyoncé and more. On a tangent, going back through these made me realise how important and influential the music video used to be, and quite how much that’s no longer the case…

An initially obscure release brought to light by David Mancuso, covered by tens then sampled by hundreds, Soul Makossa is a piece of music history.

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