‘King of Congolese rumba’ Papa Wemba dies

Updated 25 Apr 2016

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ABID JAN: Papa Wemba, one of Africa’s greatest music stars, died on Sunday after collapsing on stage during a festival in the Ivory Coast, the event organisers said.

Papa Wemba, renowned as the “king of Congolese rumba” for the fusion of Cuban and electronic rock that he pioneered in the 1970s, was 66.

The flamboyant world music singer died after collapsing during a set in the early hours of Sunday at the Urban Musical Festival Anoumabo (FEMUA) in Abidjan.

Video footage broadcast live on television showed the dramatic moment that Papa Wemba — wearing a bold black and white patterned tunic and oversised bowler hat, slumped to the floor behind a group of dancers, before performers rushed to his aid.

The FEMUA management expressed its “deep sorrow” at the death of a man who has been at the forefront of African music for more than four decades.

The festival was the first major cultural event in Ivory Coast since the Islamist attack on the beach resort of Grand-Bassam last month that left 19 people dead.

Papa Wemba won international acclaim when the fashion for African and world music took hold in Europe and the United States in the 1980s, and recorded with British rock star Peter Gabriel.

“He was an icon, an artist of talent... it’s a great loss for music,” Democratic Republic of Congo Culture Minister Banza Mukalay said.

The father-of-six was also known as the driving spirit behind a cult movement known as “Sapeurs” whose members — young men — spend huge amounts of money on designer clothes.

However, he was convicted in France in 2004 for smuggling illegal immigrants into the country.

Published in Dawn, April 25th, 2016