Congo music legend Papa Wemba dies after collapsing on stage

Image: Congo’s most famous musician Papa Wemba during a concert in Kinshasa June 26, 2004 REUTERS/ David Lewis/Files


ABIDJAN (Reuters) – Congolese rumba music legend Papa Wemba died after collapsing on stage in the Ivory Coast in the early hours of Sunday morning, according to the private morgue where his body was taken.

Wemba, born in 1949, was performing at the FEMUA 2016 festival when he collapsed on stage. Videos posted online showed the artist falling on his back mid-song before band members rushed to his side.

He died before reaching hospital, a spokesman for the Ivosep morgue in Abidjan said.

Known in the Democratic Republic of Congo as the King of Rumba Rock, Wemba’s career began in the late 1960s. He became a staple of African music over the following decades, involved in bands including Zaiko Langa Langa and later Viva La Musica that reached audiences across the world.

He was known for mixing traditional African music with western rock and worked with international stars including former Genesis singer Peter Gabriel.

“Papa Wemba is a golden voice, an artist who has established himself through his work. The proof is that he died on stage,” said the Minister of Culture and Arts of the DRC, Baudouin Banza Mukalay Nsungu.

Fans and colleagues paid their respects over social media and in person on Sunday.

Eric Didia, a promoter of Congolese music in Ivory Coast and friend of Wemba who was at the Ivosep morgue on Sunday morning, said Wemba will long be remembered.

“I do not know if this is a loss for African music, because the music does not die. People can listen to Papa Wemba songs in 50 years, in 100 years,” he said.

Born Jules Shungu Wembadio Pene Kikumba in what was then the Belgian Congo, he moved to Europe in the 1980s, taking his band Viva La Musica with him.

He faced trial in France in 2004 for smuggling people into Europe claiming to be band or crew members, and spent a short time in jail.

Papa Wemba was also known for his taste for designer clothes, heading a flamboyantly-dressed organization called the Society of Tastemakers and Elegant People, known as Sapeurs, in Kinshasa.

“He is our papa,” said Eddy Kilonda, a young man on the verge of tears in Matonge, the district of Kinshasa where Papa Wemba began his career.

“He was not only a musician. He taught us to dress properly, to be stylish.”

(Reporting By Ange Aboa in Abidjan and Amadee Mwarabu Kiboko in Kinshasa, writing by Edward McAllister, editing by Ros Russell)

Copyright 2015 Thomson Reuters. Click for Restrictions.


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