Papa Wemba – Rumba Rock in Lingala
The cosmopolitan Papa Wemba breathed new life into Zaire’s Soukous, became a pioneer of Congolese “Rumba rock” and later made his international breakthrough as a representative of Afro-Pop. Worldwide he is one of Africa’s most successful and flamboyant artists. Born in 1949 in the Kasai region of what was once called Zaire, today he spends most of his time in Paris.
The singer Papa Wemba is one of his country’s longstanding megastars. He helped shape “Soukous“, the pan-African dance music, and is regarded worldwide as one of the outstanding representatives of Afro-Pop, alongside Youssou N’Dour, Salif Keita and Angelique Kidjo.
The son of a “pleureuse”, a professional mourner, he founded his first band in the late sixties. With their mixture of Afro-Cuban music, rock, rhythm & blues and soul, the musicians perfectly captured the mood of Zaire’s youth at that time. After the former President Veto Mobuto’s “Authenticité” veto banned “foreign” music from the radio stations, Papa Wemba and his musicians looked for a musical language that was neither derivative nor tradition-bound. They created rumba-rock, a style which became the expression of an entire generation in Zaire.
Apart from his fame as a singer and composer, Wemba also became an icon of fashion as a “Sapeur”. The movement “La Sape” – “La Societe des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Elegantes” – embodied a new African freedom by sporting exclusive, often eccentric Western designer fashion.
In the eighties, after triumphant appearances in Paris, he began to focus more and more on contemporary Western music, founding Molokai International, an Afro-pop band. International musicians, modern instrumentation, electronic sound experiments and striking lyrics in his native language, Lingala, helped make Papa Wemba’s eponymous solo debut in 1988 a worldwide pop triumph.
At the beginning of the nineties he moved to Paris for good, collaborating with the singer and songwriter Lokua Kanza and the producer Stephen Hague, among others. Despite difficulties, in the course of his career Papa Wemba increasingly oriented himself toward Western modernity and ultimately proved that he is equally at home in the traditional rhythms and songs of his homeland and in the international pop business.
Events at the HKW:
May 21 1993
Dance of the Continents
March 12 2000
Rumba Rock in Lingala
Papa Wemba was born on June 14 1949 as Jules Shungu Wembadio Pene Kikumba in Lubefu, Kasai Province, Zaire (now D. R. Congo). In the late fifties his family moved to the capital, Kinshasa. In 1969 he was a founding member of the band “Zaiko Langa Langa”. In 1974 he founded the group “Isife Lokole”, later “Yoka Lokole”, followed in 1977 by “Viva La Musica”, famed as the “Rumba rockers”.
In the eighties Papa Wemba made his international breakthrough with the Afro-pop project “Molokai”. At the same time he toured with “Africa Oyé” as a global representative of traditional African music.
In the nineties he moved to Paris, went on extended tours with such artists as Youssou N’Dour to benefit the victims of war in Africa, and recorded more albums for Peter Gabriel’s Real World label.
Today Papa Wemba – who has also made a name for himself as an actor and film composer – heads a Congolese Soukous group with twenty members, continuing to take his own path toward a fusion of tradition and modernity with “Viva La Musica”, the pop band “Molokai” and other musical projects.