Poptastic Day: Mama-se, Mama-sa, Mama-makossa

Soul Makossa

Do you ever look something up online and take so many strange turns that you end up reading up on a topic that has nothing even remotely to do with the original search? Me, ALL the time – it’s like wiki-ADD. The other day I started off wanting to know why Pluto (the dwarf planet, not the Disney dog) was demoted only three years ago.* Somehow, and I can’t for the life of me remember how, I’ve become an expert on where the phrase ‘mama-se, mama-sa, mama-makossa’ comes from. True story! Well, I say “expert”, I mean I now know as much as the person who wrote the Wikipedia entry.

You may have heard the phrase around the playground, it’s been used by a plethora of artists as varied as the Blood Hound Gang and Rihanna. I first heard it in Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Startin’ Something” and have been trying to get it out of my head since that first listen years and years ago. I found out that Makossa is a musical style popular in West and Central Africa in which traditional African music is mixed with Jazz, Highlife and Soul. Cameroonian saxophonist Manu Dibango popularized the sound with his hit, “Soul Makossa”, now known as a forerunner of disco.

The single was originally a B-side and released in 1972. David Mancuso, the New York based, self-proclaimed “musical host” used to spin records in his building at the very first, underground dance parties, known as The Loft. To this day, he refuses to call himself a DJ, but he is slowly being recognized as a major influence in the history of the DJ. Anyhoo, he got a hold of a copy and started playing it regularly at these underground, Loft parties. The song became high in demand but there were only a handful of copies, so it was sold out in a jiffy. The smart people at Atlantic licensed it and reproduced it en masse, but not before a couple dozen other bands had covered and released the song, trying to hitch a ride on its popular coattails. Moreover, artists have been using “mama-se, mama-sa” in some form or another ever since, and continue to do so.

The original Manu Dibango song is ridiculously catchy and so freakin’ funky it’s gonna makes you want to cut a rug, heck make that twelve rugs. It doesn’t take any stretch of the imagination to see why this song is known as a prime example of proto-disco.

Manu Dibango – Soul Makossa

Here are some songs that perpetuate the popularity of the phrase:

Michael Jackson – Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’
A Tribe Called Quest – Rhythm (Devoted To The Art Of Moving Butts)

*In the unlikely event anyone was reading this hoping for an answer to the Pluto question: it wasn’t till 2006 that the term “planet” was first truly defined by the International Astronomical Union. Pluto only covers two out of three criteria that make a planet a planet and ever since it gets bullied by the other 8 proper planets. Poor, tiny Pluto.