Following the ongoing posthumous Jacksonmania, Madonna included a tribute to M.J. in her show last Saturday at the O2 arena in London. As other artists, the Queen of Pop probably wanted to acknowledge the influence that her male royal counterpart had on her. Curiously, one of the Jackson’s songs performed was Thriller’s first track, Wanna Be Startin' Somethin', a song which was, as it happens, not entirely Jackson’s, and which earned him a lawsuit for plagiarism.
The overall track—the rhythm, the melody—suspiciously resembles to Soul Makossa, an underground hit of the 70s, originally composed by a pioneer of disco music, Manu Dibango, as the B side of a single—Mouvement Ewondo— which was a kind of anthem for the Cameroon soccer team. But the suspicion is confirmed once one gets to the sticky Ma ma se, ma ma sa, ma ma coo sa at the end of Jackson’s song. Were it not for a slight change in the syllables, it would be exactly the same as the original Ma-mako, ma-ma-ssa, mako-makossa.
This, however, was not the only controversy affecting the authenticity of the authorship of Jackson’s greatest album. Luixi Toledo, an amateur musician from (surprise!) Toledo, Spain, claimed to be the original author of the song Thriller. According to his testimony, in 1974 Toledo, an obsessive fan of MJ who was born the same day as the King of Pop and reported to communicate with him in dreams, sent his idol a sample of his work together with a photograph of his hometown. Among the sixteen tracks he sent, was Exorcismo, a song he had registered for copyright in 1966 and which is surprisingly similar to Thriller (released in 1982).
Unlike Dibango, Toledo was not then a renowned artist. In fact, he was and is an eccentric who has declared to have lived in Mars 12.000 years ago. Surely, this didn’t help his credibility despite there being evidence that his score is indeed registered. In the end, Jackson worked out an agreement with Dibango (he paid him around €500.000) Toledo, however, never got compensation; Jackson claimed that Exorcismo’s resemblance to Thriller was a mere coincidence. (listen—laugh—and judge by yourself. If you understand Spanish, you'll see that the topic of both songs is also similar)
At this point, there is no doubt that MJ was influenced by other artists as he influenced them. But now that MJ is dead, nobody wants to recall these incidents (or accidents?); not even Dibango, who has recently declared that "the world has lost an exceptional artist, the most talented and ingenious the world has ever had". As for Toledo, well, I'm sure he is also mourning his death somewhere in Mars or in Toledo, which is equally dry in Summer.
written on 07-Jul-2009
written on 07-Jul-2009
Thanks for the link Julio.
In the case of images (especially if they are out of their context) it is, I guess, perhaps a bit more difficult to tell whether it is a case of plagiarism or "tribute". But at least in MJ case, he (very much) improved the originals--at least Toledo's. In Madonna's images case, however.. it is not so clear to me.
written on 08-Jul-2009
Probably Toledo was in Venus and/or another planet when MJ tried to arrive to an arrangement with him... "Hi, this is Luixi. I'm out of the planet right now waiting that Scotty beams me down to the Earth again... Please, leave your message and I'll call as soon as I can"
Any way... It looks as plagiarism... but, who can say that? Perhaps MJ heard the song and after one/two years the same melody (Hmmmm... and a sort of same lyrics) came to his mind!...
In any case.... copy several people is research... copy only one is plagiarism!... No?
written on 14-Jul-2009
Franco [http://frangopeixe.blogspot.com] says:
This whole MJ thing brings out my inner franquista -well, not that much: I'm only a bit conservative-, for I just can't stand the word 'artist'. It is everywhere. And it happens in Spanish, too. I need a separation, a limit, between the MJs and the JMs, between Michael Jackson and, to be clear, Bach. But this is just my inner franquista, not me. (Sorry for being so expressive in your blog.)
written on 15-Jul-2009
You're not "franquista", Franco, you're a (19th Century) Romantic calling back for the High and Low art distinction You might be happier with calling MJ artist and Bach Artist.
Personally, I think it is more a question of (art) genres, one cannot compare pop music with classical music so easily. Bicyles and cars are both means of transportation but it would be kind of wrong to say that my bicyle is not as good as your car because it is slower. They simply have different ends and were built with different 'plans' in mind. Similarly, pop music and classical music play different roles in society. There are better and worse pop 'stars' as there are better and worse classical musicians. But a pop song is not 'bad' because it is not on the level of the Goldberg Variations... that was never its aim.
To get the things short, I prefer to use good/bad and not art/artist as evaluative terms. And to say what is good or bad one needs first to know what kind of thing it is--to which category does it belong.
written on 15-Jul-2009
OH! and PLEASE be as expressive as you like in this blog