To some, he was the King of Congolese rumba, a sound that layered luscious Cuban rumba with African instruments and beats.
Papa Wemba, or Jules Shungu Wembadio Pene Kikumba, was rebellious, prolific, a style icon, at times notorious and always innovative.
“The world of popular music has lost a giant—a consummate musician, a shape-shifter who challenged norms and rewrote the rules of his nation’s music repeatedly over four decades, who spearheaded a fashion movement and now has left us suddenly and far too young,” wrote ethnomusicologist Banning Eyre on the website Afropop.
Papa (nicknamed as the oldest son of his mother) fell ill Sunday during a performance at the Urban Music Festival of Anoumabo in Cote d’Ivoire and did not recover.
An all-night concert tribute takes place this week in Abidjan, with more than 100 national and international singers and musicians, from 9 p.m. until dawn.
Grammy Award winner Angelique Kidjo of Benin reflected on her musical colleague. “I’ve been struggling since the death of Prince and now we have the passing of Papa Wemba, and I’m wondering what this is all about,” she said in an interview on the “BBC Newshour.” Wemba “was a generous soul when it came to helping people. He didn’t say much, but he observed a lot and when he spoke in that gentle voice, everything he said was right on the spot.”
About his role as a style icon, Kidjo said, “People have always had stereotypes about us, and he was saying dressing well is not just a matter of money, not just something for Westerners, but that we Africans also have elegance. It was all about defining ourselves and refusing to be stripped of our humanity.”
Nigeria’s Femi Kuti stated, “We were just getting over Prince’s death and then hearing this was sad.
He was performing in a period of people like my father Fela Kuti, Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masakela, Manu Dibango—the African greats who opened doors for people like me.”
From Manu Dibango of Cameroon (Soul MaKossa) commented, “Africa has lost another worthy son in the shape of Papa Wemba. May the heaven and the spirits welcome him in peace. Papa Wemba will remain forever in our hearts.”
He leaves behind his wife Marie-Rose Luzolo Amazone and six children.