NEW YORK (IDN | GIN) – To some, he was the King of Congolese rumba – a sound that layered luscious Cuban rumba with African instruments and beats.
Papa Wemba, or Jules Shungu Wembadio Pene Kikumba, was rebellious, prolific, a style icon, at times notorious and always innovative.
“The world of popular music has lost a giant—a consummate musician, a shape-shifter who challenged norms and rewrote the rules of his nation’s music repeatedly over four decades, who spearheaded a fashion movement, and now has left us suddenly and far too young,” wrote ethnomusicologist Banning Eyre on the website Afropop.
Papa (named for the eldest son of his mother) fell ill on April 24 during a performance at the Urban Music Festival of Anoumabo in Cote d’Ivoire and did not recover. He died the same day.
An all-night concert tribute was taking place in the week beginning April 25 in Abidjan, with more than 100 national and international singers and musicians from 9 pm until dawn.
Grammy-award winner Angelique Kidjo of Benin reflected on her musical colleague. “I've been struggling since the death of Prince and now we have the passing of Papa Wemba and I'm wondering what this is all about,” she said in an interview with the BBC Newshour.
Wemba “was a generous soul when it came to helping people. He didn't say much, but he observed a lot and when he spoke in that gentle voice everything he said was right on the spot.
As a style icon: “People have always had stereotypes about us, and he was saying dressing well is not just a matter of money, not just something for Westerners, but that we Africans also have elegance. It was all about defining ourselves and refusing to be stripped of our humanity.”
From Nigeria’s Femi Kuti: “We were just getting over Prince's death and then hearing this was sad.
“He was performing in a period of people like my father Fela Kuti, Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masakela, Manu Dibango - the African greats who opened doors for people like me.”
From Manu Dibango of Cameroon (Soul MaKossa): “Africa has lost another worthy son in the shape of Papa Wemba. May the heaven and the spirits welcome him in peace. Papa Wemba will remain forever in our hearts.”
He leaves behind his wife Marie-Rose Luzolo Amazone and six children. [IDN | INPS – 27 April 2016]
Photo: Papa Wemba, photographed in 2009. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
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