Jazz Great Manu Dibango Dies From Coronavirus At Age 86

Cameroonian jazz artist Manu Dibango has died at age 86 after contracting the novel coronavirus, per ABC News. The celebrated musician and songwriter passed away on Tuesday, March 24 from complications related to COVID-19, according to a statement posted on his official Facebook page in the early hours of Tuesday.

"It is with deep sadness that we announce the loss of Manu Dibango, our Papy Groove, who passed away on 24th of March 2020, at 86 years old, further to covid 19," the statement, written in French, reads. "His funeral service will be held in strict privacy, and a tribute to his memory will be organized when possible."

The jazz great — who played saxophone and vibraphone and was renowned for his funk and traditional Cameroonian music — spent his final hours in a hospital near Paris, his music publisher Thierry Durepaire, Agence France-Presse reported, according to the New York Post. Following the news, fans have been mourning the artist on social media.

The coronavirus continues to spread across the world

Paris is just one of the cities that has gone on lockdown due to the pandemic. As of now, at least 409,462 people have been infected with COVID-19. According to Worldometer, 18,276 of those have died and 107,080 have recovered. After China, the countries that have been hit the hardest by the virus are Italy, Spain, and the United States. Most of Europe has also reported cases, as have other countries such as Mexico, Japan and Singapore. In Italy and the U.S., thousands of residents have been forced to self-quarantine to keep themselves from getting infected.

It's unclear if Manu Dibango suffered from any other health ailments before contracting the virus. Career-wise, Dibango was best known for his 1972 hit "Soul Makossa" and will be remembered as one of the pioneers of Afro jazz. In 1973, he was nominated for two Grammy Awards, one for Best R&B Instrumental Performance (for his Soul Makossa album) and one for Best Instrumental Compositions (for his "Soul Makossa" single).

Manu Dibango's rise to fame

Manu Dibango was born in 1933 in Douala, Cameroon, where the main languages are French and English. He attended high school in France and dove into the world of music, according to The Guardian. As a teen, he took lessons to learn to play the piano, the saxophone, and vibraphone, not realizing that that knowledge would eventually lead him to fame. 

Dibango entered the industry at the boom of jazz, and as a result, got to play with other music legends. "The blacks that we saw [in France] were either boxers like Sugar Ray Robinson – or jazzmen," he said in a 2018 interview with QWEST TV. "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."

At the start of his career, he toured Europe and Congo, even going back to his native Cameroon before returning to Paris for good in 1965. In his music, his European and African influences were apparent and created his unmistakable style. His biggest hit, "Soul Makossa," was originally written for the 1972 Africa Cup of Nations football tournament, but it quickly became his staple. 

Manu Dibango's life of art

Throughout his lengthy career, Manu Dibango collaborated with numerous artists, including American pianist Herbie Hancock and Nigerian multi-instrumentalist Fela Kuti, a fellow Afrobeat pioneer, according to the BBC

Regarded as the "Giant of African Music" by many, Dibango was more passionate about his art than about the spotlight. Still, he was embroiled in some Hollywood drama in the '80s when he filed a lawsuit against none other than the "King of Pop," Michael Jackson, according to Variety. At the time, Dibango claimed that Jackson stole a hook from his famous song "Soul Makossa" for two tracks on his best-selling album, Thriller. The line, "Mama-say, mama-sa, ma-makossa," from Jackson's 1983 song "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" was the one he allegedly lifted from Dibango's chorus on "Soul Makossa." 

After much debate, Jackson eventually settled the case out of court in 1986, giving Dibango a big legal win. Per Variety, Dibango tried to file another lawsuit years later in 2009 against Jackson and Rihanna, who sampled "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" on her track "Don't Stop The Music." That claim, however, was found inadmissible.

Manu Dibango's death causes shockwaves

Various celebrities have been infected with the novel coronavirus, including Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson, reality TV star Colton Underwood, Bravo host Andy Cohen, and more. Sadly, Manu Dibango is one of the first international stars to die from health issues directly related to COVID-19. 

On Tuesday afternoon, fans, friends, and loved ones took to Twitter to voice their sadness and mourn the musician's death. In the span of several hours, over 500 people retweeted the statement his team posted about his passing, and over 800 have "liked" the post. 

According to Song Kick, Dibango's last show took place on Oct. 31, 2019 in Barcelona, Spain at the 51 Festival Internacional de Jazz de Barcelona 2019. He had no shows scheduled for 2020, according to the site.

The jazz icon is survived by his three adult children: daughters Georgia and Marva, and son Michel, named after his father.