Goodbye Papa Wemba

Wemba born Jules Shungu Wembadio Pene Kikumba was a musical genius, a composer, band leader and singer who lead a major fashion movement that has stuck around for years.

His music deviated from the usual sounds that came out of the Congo; he broke boundaries brushing aside the norm with a unique creative sense that pushed him to the greatest of rhumba heights.

Papa Wemba was a man who was larger than life, for the over 60 years he has lived in this world, the singer has left a great impact than the young choir singer he was, we would dare imagine, would even phantom. In Kenya, Papa Wemba has a major following especially among the rhumba devotees; his impact was so phenomenal that days after he died most radio stations continue to play his music in tribute to the flashy figure.

Papa Wemba died while performing on stage in Abidjan on Sunday April 23.


Wemba started his singing while in choirs mostly the church choir in his country’s Kisai region before he made the journey to Kinshasa that would see him become a national star and later a global icon. According to various literatures, the singer’s father was a village chief and his mother a professional funeral wailer/mourner (in French; pleureuse).

The singer came from humble backgrounds to become one of the founding members of Zaiko Langa Langa, the influential African band of the 1970s. While with the band, Wemba developed his undistinguished persona from his powerful voice and flashy dressing that made him the focal point while on stage. His dressing was a driving force that helped push the Society of Ambience-Makers and Elegant People movement otherwise known as Sapeurs. The cult like fashionistas dress in flashy expensive designer clothes and talk in a certain way, the lifestyle became so popular that it was part of almost every Congolese musician.

Wemba was an innovator when it came to music. After breaking up with Zaiko Langa Langa, the pioneers of the popular Soukous sounds, and going ahead to form another band Viva La Musica, the band’s compositions became even more versatile, their music fused rock, pop, soul, rnb and traditional music. His music was so popular now even as far as Europe. His versatile and innovative skills made him a great voice in the World Music arena; it is during this period that, former Genesis singer Peter Gabriel tapped his talent to develop some well known classics hits from Congo through the Real World Label. Case in point Emotion an album that was released around 1995. Wemba’s Viva La Musica band that remained intact for over 30 years. Before Viva La Musica, he had created another band Isifi Lokolo (Instut De Savoir Idealogique pour la Formation des Idoles) which was more inclined to folk music.

Wemba’s performances in festivals are some of the most memorable among his fans; he died while performing at the Urban Musical Festival at Anoumabo in Abidjan. The singer has a stash of over 40 albums released with groups and others as a solo act, the recordings have stayed revelant and influenced many in the music sphere. 

The singer was convicted in France in 2004 for a period of three months in prison over an illegal immigration racket; he was accused of smuggling in people under the pretext that they were his band members.

Wemba remained a true artist until his death, he died while doing what he loved best at Afroway we pay tribute to one of the greatest African voices. The iconic figure’s legacy will forever remain part of the African nation and culture.

Thank you Papa Wemba!

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