Papa Wemba, 66, one of Africa’s greatest music stars, recognized as the King of Congolese rumba has died after collapsing on stage during the Abidjan Urban Musical Festival Anoumabo (FEMUA) in the Ivory Coast, today (Sunday).
Papa Wemba, born Jules Shungu Wembadio Pene Kikumba (June 14, 1949 – April 24, 2016), was a Congolese musician, working in the Congolese rumba/soukous genre. He was one of Africa’s most popular musicians prominent in world music. Born in what was then Belgian Congo, Wemba inherited his love of song from his mother, who was a professional wailing woman at funerals.
Papa Wemba was one of the very first musicians to join the influential Soukous band, Zaiko Langa Langa when it was created in December 1969 in Kinshasa along with such well known Congolese musicians as Nyoka Longo Jossart, Manuaku Pepe Felly, Evoloko Lay Lay, Bimi Ombale, Teddy Sukami, Zamuangana Enock, Mavuela Simeon, Clan Petrole and others.
The young and talented Papa Wemba (then known as Jules Presley Shungu Wembadio) was one of the driving forces that, by 1973, made Zaiko Langa Langa one of the most-performing dominant Congolese groups, featuring such popular numbers as “Chouchouna” (Papa Wemba), “Eluzam” and ” Mbeya Mbeya” (Evoloko Lay Lay), “BP ya Munu” (Efonge Gina), “Mwana Wabi” and “Mizou” (Bimi Ombale) and “Zania” (Mavuela Somo).
In December 1974, at the pinnacle of their fame (and just a month after the Rumble in the Jungle between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in Kinshasa), Shungu Wembadio (Papa Wemba), along with Evoloko Lay Lay, Mavuela Somo and Bozi Boziana (who had joined Zaiko Langa Langa a year earlier), left Zaiko Langa Langa to establish their own musical ensemble Isifi Lokole, ISIFI being an acronym for “Institut du Savoir Ideologique pour la Formation des Idoles”.
In July 1975, Shungu Wembadio officially adopted the soon-to-be-well-known worldwide artist name Papa Wemba, the addition of “Papa” (father) an allusion to what were in fact rather awesome family responsibilities as the first son in a family where both father and mother (Wemba’s parents) had been deceased since the 1960s.
After many trials and controversies within other bands, Papa Wemba was lead to form his own group Viva la Musica in February 1977. At his home in the Matonge neighborhood of Kinshasa, Papa Wemba structured Viva la Musica around young talented artists such as singers Kisangani Esperant, Jadot le Cambodgien, Pepe Bipoli and Petit Aziza, guitarists Rigo Star, Syriana, and Bongo Wende and “Cheri O”, as the writer of most of the group’s hit songs. The group had nearly instantaneous success with hit songs that included “Mere Superieure,” “Mabele Mokonzi”, “Bokulaka,” “Princesse ya Sinza”, and others.
At the height of his success in 1977, Papa Wemba’s family home, in Kanda-Kanda street, which had become a popular, some even said hallowed place for Matonge youths to gather “à la mode” (i.e., to be cool), was named the “Village Molokai,” and Wemba assumed the exalted moniker “Chef Coutumier” (Chief) of the Village of Molokai. That village in the heart of Matonge, included the following streets, which firsts letters were used to form the acronym: M-O-LO-KA-I: Masimanimba-Oshwe-LOkolama-KAnda-kanda-Inzia.
After the wave of African emigration to Europe in the 1990s, Wemba maintained one group in Kinshasa (called at times “Nouvelle Ecriture”, “Nouvel Ecrita”, and now again “Viva la Musica”) and another one in Paris (“Nouvelle Generation,” “La Cour des Grands,” and now “Viva Tendance”).
Besides his musical influence, he popularized Sapeur fashion, an eccentric look with three-piece suits, shiny black leather shoes and flashy accessories. in the era of Joseph Mobutu, Papa Wemba challenged the status quo and devised the acronym SAPE, roughly translated from the French for “the society of atmosphere-setters and elegant people.” He dressed his band, Viva La Musica, in the style, and fans across Africa followed suit.
Wemba is also known as an actor. In 1987, he played the male lead role in the successful Zairean (Congolese) film La Vie est Belle by Belgian director Benoît Lamy and Congolese producer-director Ngangura Mweze. In 2012, he had a cameo role in the Belgian drama film Kinshasa Kids.
On 18 February 2003, suspected of being involved in a network that has allegedly smuggled hundreds of illegal immigrants from the Democratic Republic of Congo (former Zaire) into Europe, Papa Wemba was arrested at his home in Paris.
He was eventually found guilty by a Belgian court in June 2003 and sentenced to fifteen months imprisonment and a 22.000 euro fine. He spent three and a half months in prison, an experience that, on his release after a €30,000 bail was posted, he declared had had a profound psychological effect on him. The singer claimed to have undergone a spiritual conversion in jail and even recounted this episode on his album Somo Trop (released in October 2003). On the song “Numéro d’écrou”, he recalled the day “God” paid a visit to his cell.
Several media sources.