For Africa and all those affected by famine, the African-American performer Michael Jackson expressed his most heart-felt compassion as he dedicated “We are the World” to them in 1985. His most famous album, Thriller, released three years earlier, was marked with a few African expressions borrowed from Manu Dibango, a Cameroonian musician of international repute.
In Black or White, the King of pop danced with the planet as he skilfully moved to everyone’s rhythm. According to him, “it don’t matter if you’re black or white”, but strangely his colour lightened more and more as time went by. After his death from a heart attack, last Thursday, this is one of the few question marks of a legend who has almost succeeded in carrying his secrets with him to the grave.
Nonetheless, his three nicknames summarize Michael Jackson’s public persona. “King of pop” for his musical talent, “Wacko Jacko” for his many eccentricities and “Bambi”, for the profound nostalgia of a childhood spent stage under the leadership of a tyrannical father, who shocked the world when he used his son’s death as the most opportune time to announce his new record label.
But for Jermaine Jackson’s declaration: “May Allah be with you forever”, somewhat confirming Michael Jackson’s conversion to Islam, another secret would have been buried with him. His autopsy is an exception apparently authorized by Islam, given his popularity.
Michael Jackson’s global popularity made him one of the last legends of our times. Universally recognized in the minutest detail, the artist is being mourned around the world. In Africa, according to the BBC, a Nigerian radio presenter collapsed after announcing the unfortunate news whilst in Ghana one of their journalists was almost attacked by an angry woman who thought the ‘joke’, i.e; how she felt about Michael Jackson’s death, was of bad taste.
The first official reaction from Africa, however, came from the Mandela Foundation, which regretted Michael Jackson’s “premature death”. The legendary performer after meeting Nelson Mandela for the first time in 1996 flew to South Africa in 1999, his last trip to Africa, to attend a Birthday organised to honour the First Black President of South Africa. Michael Jackson was awarded a Kora Award for the best African musician. His numerous tours saw the king of pop visiting Africa on several occasions: twice to Senegal, once with the Jackson 5, and the other during his solo career. He also travelled to Kenya and Tunisia.
Compassion and inspiration
The king of pop spent a lot of time in Africa in the early 90’s as he embarked on charitable operations. But his visits became controversial when he was accused of refusing to shake hands with Africans as well as having pinched his nose because their stench. Images, however, proved the accusatory media wrong. Michael Jackson, among others, visited Côte d’Ivoire, where he was made crowned as an honorary king in the Agni kingdom (east of Côte d’Ivoire). He also visited Tanzania and Gabon, where Ali Bongo, the son of the late President of Gabon last Friday read an emotional tribute in honour of the late singer. Michael Jackson, according to him, “was the first artist who appealed to all races.” Back to the controversial African journey, the late singer told the Ebony magazine in 1992 that Africa “is home”. In 2004, African women in the United States honoured Michael Jackson for his commitment to the fight against AIDS in Africa.
In a less glorious moment, Michael Jackson unfortunately produced a copy of a Manu Dibango (Cameroonian jazz-funk and afro beat musician) song. In 1982, Michael Jackson’s Thriller was released. It became the best-selling album in the history of music with between 50 and 100 million albums sold, according to sources. One of the songs on the album, Wanna be startin ‘somethin’, samples the famous Manu Dibango song; “Mamako, Mamassa, Mamakossa“, from his Soul Makossa album released in 1972. Michael Jackson had gone ahead to reproduce part of the musical piece without seeking the proper rights and was consequently sued for plagiarism. The two artists later had an out of court settlement in1986. The Cameroonian singer received a million French francs after which he waived his rights to Wanna be startin ‘somethin’. According to the agreement, his works were to be used in the future only after he had given his approval. This agreement was respected until 2007, when Rihanna seemingly forgot to apply for the rights of the same sample in Don’t stop the music. Akon followed suit when he also reproduced the same the sample from Manu Dibango in a new version of Wanna be startin ‘somethin’. The case was brought before the French courts earlier this year. This year, the album that triggered Manu Debango’s trail of law suits, Thriller, marks its 25th anniversary.
On 29 August, Michael Jackson would have celebrated his 51st birthday, a few weeks after his last scheduled appearance on stage in July. The tour titled “This is it”, sums everything up, unfortunately.