Papa Wemba, one of the leading Congolese musicians of all time, collapsed and died while performing at a concert in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, on Saturday night.

His death plunged the Lingala music fraternity into double mourning following the demise of former Afrisa International bass guitarist Shaba Kahamba in the Netherlands the same week.

Papa Wemba’s death is a big blow to Congolese music enthusiasts worldwide as he was one of the finest Lingala composers and vocalists ever. He was also instrumental in nurturing talent.

The 66-year-old icon, whose real name was Jules Shungu Wembadio, was performing at the Festival of Urban Music Anoumabo (FEMUA – Edition 2016), organised by Magic System. Video clips of the fatal incident circulating on social media yesterday showed him collapsing and falling while on stage. His dancers continued gyrating to the music unaware of what was happening behind them. He was taken to hospital.

Speaking to the Daily Nation from Kinshasa yesterday, his compatriot, guitarist Maika Munan, said the Democratic Republic of Congo was in mourning after receiving the news.

“Prior to the Ivorian trip, Wemba had been recuperating after having been hospitalised,” Mr Maika said, adding that this was his first major trip outside DRC after he was hospitalised in Paris earlier this year.

The veteran musician headlined the third edition of the bi-monthly music and arts festival, The Koroga Festival, in Nairobi in 2014.

Papa Wemba was regarded by many as one of the kingpins of the third generation of Congolese musicians. He mentored many under his Viva la Musica band.

Before forming Viva la Musica, Papa Wemba was among those at the forefront of Orchestra Zaiko Langa Langa band alongside Nyoka Longo, Manuaku Pepe Fally and Zamanguana, among others, in the late 1960s and early ’70s. Papa Wemba was later with Isifi and Yoka Lokole bands.


Among some of his most popular songs were “Show Me the Way” and a duet with Koffi Olomide, “Wake Up”. Other popular numbers were “Bakala Dia Ba” and “Pole Position”.

In 1979, Papa Wemba became the leader of the Sapeur (Société des Ambianceurs et des Personnes d’Élégance, or SAPE), which he promoted as a youth cult. Many Congolese musicians looked upon him as an idol, both in terms of attire and musical performance.

Another Congolese musician, Nyboma Mwandido, said by telephone from Paris yesterday that all Lingala musicians and fans in Europe had been saddened by news of Papa Wemba’s death.

Darzee Kalend, band leader of the Nairobi-based Bilenge Musica band, said the musician’s death was a blow to the industry because many musicians had looked up to him.


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