CNN is reporting influential Congo music star Jules Papa Wemba has passed away, after collapsing on stage during a performance Saturday night at the Urban Music Festival in Ivory Coast. Andreas Preuss of CNN writes:
“Papa Wemba, 66, was considered a Congolese icon and world music star after merging his Central African heritage with Western pop, rock and rap. His style earned him the nickname ‘King of Rhumba Rock.’ Besides his musical influence, he popularized Sapeur fashion, an eccentric look with three-piece suits, shiny black leather shoes and flashy accessories.
Papa Wemba said he was inspired by his parents, who took great pride in dressing up on Sundays in the ’60s, ‘always well-put-together, always looking very smart.’ But in the era of Joseph Mobutu, Papa Wemba wanted to challenge the status quo, so he 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 soon followed suit.”
BBC Africa reports:
“Born in 1949, Wemba, whose real name was Shungu Wembadio Pene Kikumba, began his singing career in religious choirs.
He helped modernise Congolese rumba music, with the genre that emerged – soukous – influencing music across Africa.
Together with his bands Zaiko Langa Langa, Isifi and Viva La Musica, he racked up hit after hit, including L’Esclave and Le Voyageur.
He appeared in two feature films, Life Is Beautiful (1987) and Wild Games (1997).”
In 2004, he was convicted of ‘people smuggling’ and spent 3 months in prison. He was convicted of the same crime in 2012 and was fined, but evaded prison time. Wemba would use his band to help Conglese people get to Europe.
Congolese Culture Minister Baudouin Banza Mukalay called Wemba’s death a ‘great loss for the country and all of Africa,’ and Congolese President Joseph Kabila has expressed his condolences.
Kinshasa rapper Youssoupha tweeted in French that Wemba’s death was a ‘huge loss.’