By Gloria A Okore with Ogova Ondego
Published May 5, 2016
The remains of a man described as “the master of art, a man of talent and genius,” have been interned in the Congolese capital, Kinshasa.
The remains of Papa Wemba, who died on April 24, 2016 while performing in the Ivorian capital, Abidjan, were temporarily buried at the Necropole Entre Terre et Ciel cemetery on the outskirts of Kinshasa on May 4, 2016.
Andre Kimbuta, the mayor of Kinshasa who described the late Papa Wemba as “the master of art, a man of talent and genius,” said the departed musician’s remains would be moved in the coming days to a mausoleum being built in his honour.
Papa Wemba , whose real name was Jules Shiungu Wembedio Pene Kikumba, was born on June 14, 1949 in Lubefu village in Kasai Province of the then Belgian Congo.
Apart from his music, Wemba was largely recognised for his unique fashion sense. He led people into appreciating the elegance of western attire and perfume. His fashion sense led to the inspiration of the La Sape movement whose main purpose is to look good.
The music icon was part of the second generation of Rhumba music that challenged President Joseph-Desire Mobutu Sese Seko’s “return to Africa authenticity” policy as a way of buying the musicians’ loyalty and praises in order for them to stay in the country.
The music he sang was fused with Soukous and traditional Congolese Rumba. The group Zaiko Langa Langa was formed in December 1969.
Zaiko Langa Langa, that comprised Nyoka Lango, Bimi Ombale and Wemba, become more successful by 1973, with several popular songs under their belt– Chouchouna and Liwa Ya Somo—thanks to Wemba’s contribution.
At the pinnacle of their success, in December 1974, Papa Wemba along with Evoloko Lay Lay, Mavuela Somo and Bozi Boziana left Zaiko to form their own band, Isifi Lokole. The band only lasted a year with the single, Amazone, as their biggest record. Speculations were rife that problems arose from how money was supposed to be controlled.
In 1975, Papa along with Bozi Boziana and Mavuela Somo left Isifi Lokole to create Yowa Lokole. Under this new group, they had hits like Matebele Bangui, Lisomo Ya Zazu and Sala Kaba. This group also lasted a year, with Wemba being arrested for allegedly being intimate with the daughter of an army general.
Despite the hurdles he faced, Wemba found the strength and courage to form yet another group, Viva La Musica, in 1977. His main aim was to structure it around young, talented but unknown artists. It was through this group that his international success would come.
The new-found fame and success made a Kinshasa newspaper to name them the best orchestra band. Their hit songs were Moku Nyon, Cou Cou Dindon and Nyekese. So big were their songs that people were eager to know who the talented songwriter was. It was Antoine Agbepa, the musician popularly known as Koffi Olomide who would later leave the group to take on a solo career.
Papa Wemba, the man loved by all, was arrested in Paris in 2003 for alleged human trafficking following an international arrest warrant issued by Belgian authorities. He was jailed for three months in France. A Belgian court also convicted him of the same offense in 2012 and fined him €22000 along with a suspended prison sentence of 15 months.
In matters film, he played a lead role in the Congolese film, LA VIE EST BELLE (Life is Rosy), by the Belgian director, Benoit Lammy. The film is about Korou, played by Wemba, a villager who goes to Kinshasa to become a musician and a successful man. Once there he falls in love with Kabibi, a young woman who wants to become a secretary. Unfortunately, Nvoundou, a club owner, is in search of a second wife and falls in love with Kabibi.
Wemba also contributed the soundtrack to BESIEGED, a film is about a village girl, Shandurai, who wants to study medicine. She goes to work for a pianist, Mr.Kinsky, as a house help. The boss however, falls in love with her but can’t have her as she is married to a man who is in jail. The film was directed by Bernado Bertolucci.
Papa Wemba also composed sound tracks for MACADAM (a Jose Zeka Laplaine film about two brothers who roam the streets with their friend Duka, who later returns to the boxing ring but falls in a coma when the fight does not turn out as he expected) and Dioudone Mweze Ngarura’s IDENTITY PIECES, a film about a king of Bakongo whose daughter goes to Belgium to study medicine but loses contact with her father. The king is then forced to go to Belgium in search of her and encounters culture shock.
Papa Wemba also made a cameo appearance in the Belgian drama, KINSHASA KIDS, a film focusing on a group of street children expelled from school on suspicion of engaging in witchcraft. They then form a hip hop group while a documentary crew film their efforts. It is directed by Marc-Henri Wajnberg.
During the FEMUA urban music festival in Abidjan, Cote d Voire, Papa Wemba, the man adored by many, collapsed while performing on stage. He was pronounced dead shortly after. He was two months short of his 67th birthday.
Wemba’s sudden demise has shocked many. He was seen as being a revolutionary, game changer, and icon.
In music, a person is great when alive and even greater in death.
Some 15000 people were said to have attended Papa Wemba’s funeral at the Notre Dame of Congo Cathedral in Kinshasa. His body had lain in state at Parliament buildings as music concerts and other ceremonies were held in his honour during three days of official mourning (May 2-4, 2016).
Apart from a mausoleum being built in his honour, President Joseph Kabila conferred on the late musician a national honour, Grand Officer of the National Order while the government—through the Culture Ministry—is planning to build a theatre in his memory.