Papa Wemba, a star of world music, who’s been described as “the king of Congolese rumba” has died at the age of 66, after he collapsed on stage during a concert on the Ivory Coast.
According to Tucson.com, video footage showed Wemba collapsing during a concert he was giving to thousands of fans, as his fellow musicians rushed to help him. He was rushed to a nearby clinic, however he couldn’t be revived. The exact cause of death is unknown.
Initially his spokesperson Henri Noel Mbuta Vokia, who was watching the concert on television, thought that the world music star’s on-stage collapse was just part of the act, as reported by The Telegraph.
“I then saw the Red Cross workers rushing on to the stage,” said Vokia, who confirmed Wemba’s death to the media. “Then the Ivorian television signal was cut. I tried to call his manager Cornelie abroad. He told me he collapsed in the middle of the concert.”
Vokia continued, “He was transferred to hospital. I called back ten minutes later and was told he was in intensive care. I called back 30 minutes later and Cornelie told me Papa Wemba had passed on.”
On Sunday, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Culture Minister Baudouin Banza Mukalay described Wemba as “a golden voice,” to Reuters.
“It is a great loss for Congo and for all of Africa,” said Mukalay. “He was a self-made man, a role model for Congolese youth.”
“I do not know if this is a loss for African music, because the music does not die,” said Eric Didia, a friend of the musician’s and a promoter of Congolese music on the Ivory coast.
He continued, “People can listen to Papa Wemba songs in 50 years, in 100 years.”
“I would put him in the same bracket as Fela Kuti when it comes to influence on African music,” said DJ Edu, of BBC Radio, who paid tribute to the artist.
The world music star, whose birth name was Jules Shugu Wembadio Pene Kikumba, found fame in the 1970’s while performing with the band Zaiko Langa Langa. The band, which was formed in Congo’s capital of Kinshasa, blended African and Latin styles of music, that has inspired many African musicians.
“He was born in the right time and place for an aspiring singer,” said Robin Denslow, of The Guardian. “Thanks to musicians like the great guitarist Franco and his band OK Jazz, and other bands from African Jazz to Africa Fiesta, Congolese rhumba or soukous became massively popular across the continent, and then in the West.”
In the 1980’s, Papa Wemba spent time in Paris playing with the band Viva La Musica, where he helped Congolese music reach audiences worldwide. In the 1990’s he toured with Peter Gabriel, and is featured on his album Secret World Live.
According to World Music Central, he released the albums Le Voyager, Emotion, and Molokai for Gabriel’s Real World label spanning from 1992 to 1998. In 1996, Wemba joined top African musicians including Youssou N’Dour on the charity single “So Why?” which helped to raise money for war victims in Africa.
Papa Wemba was also known for his flamboyant sense of style and helped to popularize Sapeur fashion, as reported by CNN. Wemba, who was inspired by his parents to take pride in his appearance, would wear three piece suits with leather shoes and designer accessories.
However, Wemba became famous “for all the wrong reasons,” according to The Guardian‘s Robin Denselow.
The world music star used his band as an organization to smuggle people when on tour, particularly in Europe. In 2004, he ended up serving a jail sentence in France, for what was described as “an elaborate illegal immigration operation.”
Still, Denselow wants people to remember Wemba, who he called “one of Africa’s great voices,” for the world music he pioneered.
(Photo by Remy de la Mauviniere/AP Photo)