Sixty six year old Papa Wemba, who collapsed suddenly on stage April 24, 2016 while performing in the Ivory Coast, will be remembered as a pioneering African musician who died as he lived: making music. Wemba was rushed to the hospital after falling down, however he expired en route. A video of his concert showed him slumped in the arms of a group of dancers, but the cause of death is unknown.
Touted as ” The King Of Congolese Rumba,” Wemba is being widely mourned by his fans. His death was termed, “a great loss” by the Congolese Culture Minister. Youssoupha, a Kinshasa rapper, stated that like his community, he was devastated by Papa Wemba’s death. He went on to express that Wemba was an icon of their culture and that this was “a huge loss“. Wemba was also a lifestyle icon, leading a cultural movement known as the Sapeurs, whose trademark was spending a fortune on designer clothing. A fellow celebrity, Angelique Kidjo, stated that he spearheaded a manner of elegant dressing which personified and honored Africans.
Papa Wemba was born on June 14, 1949, as Jules Shungu Wembadio Pene Kikumba. Wemba acquired the nickname, “Papa,” because he was his parent’s oldest child. He began his singing career in a religious choir, inspired by his mother who was a professional “wailing woman.” Wemba made his debut in the Congolese capital, Kinshasa, at the end of the 1960’s. He toured with British pop star, Peter Gabriel. Wemba’s career was a lifelong one, as he was a musician for more than forty years with his band, Zaiko Langa Langa.
Papa Wemba saw some jail time, firstly in 2004, when he was arrested for people-smuggling in France; he was in prison for three months. Then, in 2012, he was convicted, in Belgium, for the same crime; he was fined $24,690, and his 15 month jail sentence was suspended.
Wemba starred in two movies, “Life Is Beautiful,” and “Wild Games.” But he was best known for his musical career which spanned forty years. Called “The King of Congolese Rumba,” Wemba helped modernize Congolese rumba, changing music throughout Africa. His influence on African music was wide, as his unique songs combined African, Cuban, and Western sounds. Wemba’s songs, including “A Une Passante” and “Bravo Cathy,” became two of Africa’s most popular hits. Papa Wemba has died, but he will long be remembered as one of Africa’s most popular and influential musicians.