Where Did Mama Say Mama Sa Mama Coosa Originate?

Michael Jackson, The King of Pop, is why you know the term Mama Say Mama Sa Mama Coosa, but it didn’t originate with him.

Let’s face it, you’re here because of the song Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin that MJ released in 1982 off of the album, Thriller. It was an outrageously excellent track for dancing and was played at every wedding for the next decade. But no, the Billie Jean, Beat It and Thriller singer didn’t write those lyrics.

So where did the oft-misunderstood lyric come from?

Mama Say Lawsuit

It turns out that, “Mama Say Mama Sa Mama Coosa”, or a form thereof (see - Mama Se Mama Sa Mama Coo Sa), was in a song released in 1972 by Manu Dibango called Soul Makossa.

The then 75-year old saxophonist, Dibango took Michael Jackson and Rihanna (we’ll get to that soon) to court back in 2009 over alleged copyright infractions regarding the track. MJ and Dibango’s attorneys settled the matter out of court.

Rihanna’s Don’t Stop the Music was the song that sampled Michael Jackson’s Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin. Apparently she and her management only checked with MJ’s mgmt to secure their rights. Whoops.

Bloodhound Gang also referenced the lyrics as a choral part in the 1995 track, Mama Say off of their debut album, Use Your Fingers.

Same goes for Kanye West with his 2010 track, Lost in the World.

The Misheard Lyrics of Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin

Exactly what is the proper spelling of the lyric? Here are all of the ways that people have quoted the lyrics over time:

  • Mama Say Mama Sa Mama Coosa
  • Mamasa Mamakusa
  • Mama Se Mama Sa Mama Coo Sa
  • Mma Se Mma Sah Mm Makusa

The original track from musician Manu Dibango had more Mama-ko and Makomako-ssa in it. You can think of Jackson’s Wanna Be Starting Something as almost more of a remix of the song, which was probably already on the mind of Quincy Jones during the recording of the thriller album. Pop music is derivative after all.

What language do the lyrics come from?

We’re told the Cameroonian language of Duala.

Wrapping Up

This is good trivia for the next wedding you attend. Picture it ... there you are at the cocktail hour and you kindly offer up to the people at the bar that MJ’s WannaBeStartinSomething is just a rough remix of a 1972 Jazz riff named Soul Makossa from Manu Dibango. Then when the wedding gets going and the DJ plays a handful of MJ tunes, you’ll have the guests thinking all about it.

They may even buy you a drink at the after party. You’re welcome.

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References & Sources

  1. https://www.theguardian.com/music/2009/feb/04/rihanna-michael-jackson-manu-dibango
  2. https://americansongwriter.com/the-strange-story-of-mama-say-mama-sa-mama-coosa-meaning/
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lost_in_the_World
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soul_Makossa