Music Icon, Papa Wemba Dies on Stage
Papa Wemba, one of Africa's greatest music stars, has died after
collapsing on stage during a festival in the Ivory Coast, the event
organisers said Sunday.
Papa Wemba, who was known as the “king of Congolese rumba” for helping to
bring the highly popular sound to an international audience, was 66.
The flamboyant singer died shortly after after performing three songs at
the Urban Musical Festival Anoumabo (FEMUA) in Abidjan, the organisers
The FEMUA management expressed its “deep sorrow” at the death of a man who
has been at the forefront of African music for more than four decades.
Papa Wemba was born Jules Shungu Wembadio Pene Kikumba in June 1949 in
what was then Belgian Congo.
He began his singing career in religious choirs in which he developed his
trademark high range voice, making his debut in the capital Kinshasa at
the end of the 1960s.
He inherited his love of song from his mother, who was a professional
“wailing woman” at funerals.
He was convicted in 2004 of smuggling illegal immigrants into France by
disguising them as members of his band but walked free as he had already
served four months behind bars.
He was supported by a host of fans during his Paris trial in which he was
sentenced to a 30-month term, with 26 months suspended, and a fine of
10,000 euros ($11,000).
– Colourful dandy –
Papa Wemba, who was also known for his flamboyant style of dress, was a
founding member of the “Society of Dandies and Trendy People” in what is
now the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Like many of his generation he was strongly influenced by American and
British pop culture and initially took the stage name Jules Presley.
In 1969 he helped found Zaiko Langa Langa, a Zaire-based pop group that
was to achieve cult status in the 1970s with its revival of Latin American
The group revitalised the style that had been popular in the 1940s, using
a combination of Afro-Cuban rhythm and Congolese song while introducing
rock rhythms and electronic sounds.
Papa Wemba settled in France in 1986 as his fame began to reach as far
afield as Japan, dazzled by the African dandy who was dressed by the
world's leading designers.
He went on to reach a much wider public thanks to a world music album
produced by France's Martin Meissonnier in 1988, which blended African and
Papa Wemba's career began to falter after parting ways with in 1999 the
Real World record label that was founded by British rock star, the former
Genesis singer Peter Gabriel.
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