One of the last kings of Congolese rumba, Papa Wemba passed away last month while performing live on stage in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire. Papa Wemba was born Shungu Wembadio in 1949 in Kinshasa. Before establishing his career as Papa Wemba, Wembadio was part of a popular group known as Zaiko Langa Langa.
Zaiko Langa Langa was part of the musical lineup in the extravaganza of music and a world title boxing match that was the 1974 Rumble in the Jungle. Prior to the fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, musicians such as Celia Cruz, James Brown, and BB King performed on the same stage with Congolese groups like Zaiko Langa Langa.
Papa Wemba went on to start his own band, Viva La Musica in 1977. As a solo artist, he sang in Lingala and French. Papa Wemba grew as an international star between the 1980s and 1990s when he started touring in Europe, the United States, and Japan. On the African continent, Papa Wemba is credited for mentoring other Congolese rumba musicians, such as Koffi Olomide. His influence on artists outside the borders of the Democratic Republic of Congo can be seen in the tributes pouring in from different African countries.
He is known for combining Western and Congolese interests and styles to create not only unique music but fashion. Crowned prince of sapeurs — the Society of Ambianceurs and Elegant People — in the 1980s, Papa Wemba was always fashionable. The sapeurs are well-dressed dandies that create ambiance in expensive designer outfits. Papa Wemba was known to favor Japanese designers Issey Miyake and Yohji Yamamoto.
A leader in fashion and music, Papa Wemba also ventured into acting in the 1987 film “La Vie est Belle” which is available on Youtube, for those who have yet to see it. With at least 42 records, Papa Wemba leaves a great legacy behind and will surely be missed.