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.