Massive loss for music

29 April 2016 | Art and Entertainment

The Congolese musician known for his impeccable dress style and Rumba rock sound which he pioneered, collapsed on stage and was later confirmed dead on 24 April this year. Papa Wemba, whose real name is Jules Shungu Wembadio, died doing what he loved at the Festival des musiques urbaines d’Anoumabo (FEMUA) in Ivory Coast when he fell down in the middle of his act.
Papa Wemba, also known as the “King of Rumba Rock” broke out of his native Democratic Republic of Congo to become one of the most internationally successful artists of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Long a hero in his native country with bands such as Zaïko Langa Langa, Isifi Lokole, and Yoka Lokole, Wemba reached superstar status there with his band Viva La Musica. After some time in Europe, Wemba set his sights on international acclaim, and achieved it with the group Molokai International. Still singing in his native tongue, he headlined Peter Gabriel’s World of Music and Dance (Womad) tour and secured a global audience.
tjil spoke to some Namibian artists who have been in the music industry for a while, on what a great loss the death of Papa Wemba is. Francois ‘Papa Fransua’ Tsubaloko said during his youth he was a militant of the Congolese workers’ party youth league and during that time he met the legend Papa Wemba. “I was responsible for the performing arts department. When organising events in Congo we used to call artists from Zaire. That is where I came to meet Papa Wemba. We performed together. When I moved here they would locate where I am and come home. Papa Wemba created a dance called Mokonoinoi and Bulukutu and he will always be remembered for that. He was very influential. Almost everyone has copied something from him. He was a very good person and sometimes stubborn so you had to know how to handle him very well. He inspired young people in a sense that music can actually become a career that people can do for a living, and even live better than those that have employment somewhere else, young people got that from him you know. He made known that music can make someone somebody in life. I mean Papa Wemba has a family and property that he left behind which he had made from music and they survived. So that is the legacy he leaves behind. His death really touched us. At an interview in France he said that when he is on stage he doesn’t feel his feet on the ground so he was saying perhaps his death might be on stage and this happened. We really lost a big artist, in Africa there is no one that will say they don’t know Papa Wemba. Also on a global scale as he used to perform. We will miss him very much. We should take off our hats as he is one of the few artists who really promoted our music on a global scale and got us a name and for that we are really grateful. I remember the way he was on stage, the way he could move and dance. He was so energetic. And his voice, it seemed like the older he got the more golden it became, that’s something I could not understand about it. He has done his job, we will miss him and young people were looking up to him in a sense of music and fashion too. May soul rest in eternal peace. Go well my friend.”
Afro-reggae singer/songwriter Ras Sheehama said the passing of Papa Wemba is a very big loss especially on the African continent. “It is quite obvious that he was one of Africa’s biggest artists, who doesn’t know Papa Wemba? He had a very special voice, he didn’t have a voice like anybody else and also a sense of fashion that was stylish, and those are some of many things he will be remembered for. A lot of these young artists could learn from him what is being original. Almost everything nowadays has American influence but he never changed. He was himself and that’s what he was loved for. May his soul rest in eternal peace, we thank him for all he has done for us.”
Another artist who shared his condolences is Afro-pop fusion and traditional musician Big Ben who said Africa lost a star that was willing to share the stage, the skills and spotlight with any unknown artist on the continent. “I believe he has not really left since he will continue living in the hearts of those he has influenced. He died the most honourable kind of death which is to live and die on stage. There is a special heaven for musicians and the gig up there is eternal. Peace.”
The victory is yours in the race of life; you have reached the finishing line to eternal cheerfulness and calm. Your legacy will live through your music and we shall never forget you. Go well Papa Wemba.

June Shimuoshili

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