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Ma ma se, ma ma sa, ma ma coo sa

The lyrics, “Ma ma se, ma ma sa, ma ma coo sa” was made famous by the Michael Jackson song “Wanna Be Starting Somehtin”. The story behind these syllables is very interesting.

The syllables originated in the Cameroonian language Duala. Duala is spoken in Cameroon’s largest city Douala. The word Makossa is translated as “to dance”. Makossa is a derivative of “Kassa” and refers to twisting and shaking of a dancer.

“Makossa” was an international hit back in 1973. Composed by Manu Dibango on the album “Soul Makossa,” the song was originally on the “B side” of an album meant to be a hymn for the Cameroon football team. The hymn was a flop, but Makossa was widely popular. The song is credited for establishing New York’s nascent disco scene and was getting heavy airplay in the area.

Michael Jackson originally claimed his version was Swahili but later divulged his financial arrangement with Dibango in an out-of-court settlement.

When Rihanna sampled Jackson’s album with her single “Please Don’t Stop The Music,” she asked for Jackson’s permission but not Dibango’s. As a result, Dibango sued both Jackson and Rihanna seeking damages in the amount of 500,000 Euros.

source: Benjamin Zimmer