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African jazz legend Manu Dibango dies from coronavirus in France

In the early 1960s, his style of playing took on more African rhythms as he collaborated with Brussels-based musicians from Congo and he began touring in Africa, developing his trademark pumping saxophone rhythms.

FILE: In this file photo taken on 29 June 2018 Cameroon jazz saxophonist Manu Dibango performs during a concert at the Ivory Hotel in Abidjan. Picture: AFP

PARIS - World-famous singer and saxophonist Manu Dibango has died from a coronavirus infection at the age of 86 in France, his management team said on Tuesday.

“It is with deep sadness that we announce the loss of Manu Dibango, our Papy Groove, who passed away on March 24, 2020, at 86 years old, further to Covid 19,” read a statement on Dibango’s Facebook page.

Cameroon-born Dibango arrived in France in the early 1950s and studied jazz and saxophone in the northern city of Reims, where he started playing in clubs, according to a biography on his Facebook page.

Dibango died early Tuesday morning in a hospital in the Paris region, Thierry Durepaire, a member of the artist’s management team, told Reuters.

In the early 1960s, his style of playing took on more African rhythms as he collaborated with Brussels-based musicians from Congo and he began touring in Africa, developing his trademark pumping saxophone rhythms.

“Sax is sexy. I play other instruments too, but my voice sounds best through a saxophone,” Dibango - who also played piano, organ and vibraphone - told French music programme Basique last year.

In the late 1960s, Dibango started his own band, played with a string of French musicians and in 1972 he had a major hit with “Soul Makossa”, a song that brought him international success and was reinterpreted by many other artists.

In 2009, Dibango filed a lawsuit in a Paris court against the producers of Michael Jackson for using the “Mamase, mamasa, makossa” riff from Soul Makossa. The riff became world-famous through Jackson’s hit “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’”. The case was later settled out of court.

In an interview in 2019, Dibango said the song was now there for all to use. “It has moved beyond me. It is good in a way, once a song becomes a standard, it no longer belongs to the composer but to the person who interprets it,” he said.

On Dibango’s 1992 album Wakafrika, produced in France, he reinterpreted a string of African hits and played with top African stars including Youssou N’dour, King Sunny Adé, Salif Keïta, Angélique Kidjo and Papa Wemba, as well as British rock singers Peter Gabriel and Sinéad O’Connor.

In 2010, Dibango received the “legion d’honneur” medal in his adopted country France. He was diagnosed with a coronavirus infection earlier this month.

Last year, on the sidelines of a tour celebrating 60 years on stage, he said jazz music needed to have a danceable beat.

“We are the leg specialists, things have to move, that is how I see music,” he said.

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