African sax legend Manu Dibango dies of coronavirus at age 86

African jazz and funk saxophonist Manu Dibango, best known for the 1973 top-40 hit “Soul Makossa,” died Tuesday in Paris after contracting the COVID-19 coronavirus. He was 86.

A message on Dibango’s official Facebook page reads, “It is with deep sadness that we announce…the loss of Manu Dibango, our Papy Groove…His funeral service will be held in strict privacy, and a tribute to his memory will be organized when possible.”

Dibango was born in 1933 in Cameroon, then a French colony. He discovered jazz and began playing sax while going to school in France during the 1950s. He eventually went on to develop a sound that blended jazz, funk and African music.

“Soul Makossa” was released in 1972 and peaked at #35 on the Billboard Hot 100 the following year.

In 2009, Dibango filed a lawsuit claiming that Michael Jackson had stolen a hook from “Soul Makossa” and used it in two tracks on his smash album, Thriller. BBC News reports that the suit was settled out of court.

In a 2013 interview for BBC television, Dibango was asked how he felt about perhaps being a big influence on younger sax players.

“My [focus] is to try to do the best,” he explained. “Doing the best, that maybe has opened the mind and the heart some who like the instrument to say, ‘Well, I want to play saxophone like Manu.'”

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