Papa Wemba, one of the greatest singers of the past African century, died on stage in 2016 at age 66. But his body of work, both in advancing Congolese rumba and innovating new African pop sounds, as well as influencing style, fashion and music production, is immense. In this episode we look back on an iconic career, drawing on some 20 years of interviews with the artist, and insights from Congolese music aficionado and African Art Historian Lubangi Muniania. Produced by Banning Eyre.
You can also watch a visual version of this program:
Remembering Papa Wemba
WINDOW/BED: M01 Kaokokokorobo.m4a, Viva la Musica and Papa Wemba, Pole Position (Sonodisc, 3 252411 881557) [very short, time to next emerge]
GEORGES: WHEN AFROPOP WORLDWIDE FIRST HIT THE AIRWAVES IN 1988, THE MUSIC OF CONGO-KINSHASA—THEN ZAIRE—WAS WITHOUT A DOUBT THE MOST POPULAR DANCE MUSIC ON THE CONTINENT. AFROPOP HAD ALREADY VISITED THIS VIBRANT, TROUBLED CITY ON THE CONGO RIVER TWICE BY THEN, AND WE’VE KEPT OUR EARS TUNED TO IT EVER SINCE…
WINDOW: (emerge on vocal 0:33-1:02.)
…HELLO, GEORGES COLLINET WITH YOU ON AFROPOP WORLDWIDE FROM PRX. TODAY, WE’RE GOING TO PROFILE ONE OF THE GREATEST SINGERS AND CREATORS THAT CONGO-KINSHASA HAS EVER PRODUCED: PAPA WEMBA.
ACTY: 01_PW_name.wav (French)
ACTY: 01_VO.wav My name is Shungu Wembadio Pene Kikumba. Pene signifies inheritance. Kikumba is my father’s name. Shungu Wembadio is my name.
GEORGES: BORN IN A VILLAGE IN THE KASAI REGION IN 1949, PAPA WEMBA WAS THE FIRST SON IN A FAMILY WITH FOUR WIVES AND MANY CHILDREN. THE INHERITANCE HE REFERRED TO, IN ONE OF OUR EARLIEST INTERVIEWS, WAS THE CUSTOMARY CHIEFDOM OF THE VILLAGE WHERE HE WAS BORN.
ACTY: 02_PW_village-chief.wav: (French)
ACTY: 02_VO.wav: I am descended from a family of chiefs, my grandparents were traditional village chiefs. And me, just after my birth, my father took his family to live in the capital, Kinshasa. So I never really knew village life. But I was born in the village.
ACTY: 03_LUBANGI_ Unusual-EDIT.wav: Papa Wemba was an unusual person. He was bigger than his music in whatever he did...
GEORGES: THAT’S OUR GOOD FRIEND LUBANGI MUNIANIA, A MAN WHO HAS LIVED THE LIFE OF MODERN CONGOLESE MUSIC UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL.
ACTY: 04_LUBANGI_ mother.wav: You have to understand where he came from. His father was in the military. Though his mother was a housewife, she was involved in traditional things like the traditional christening of children. It was the most important part of someone coming of age.
ACTY: 05_PW_mother-cryer-EDIT.wav: (French)
ACTY: 05_VO.wav: My mother was a crier. In our culture when there is a death, the body is kept outside for two nights. People come to cry and sing. My mother sang for the dead, and everywhere she went, she would take me. So I grew up with this melancholy singing. I am also a Catholic, and I sang in church. In that music, there are also a lot of minor keys. It's like rhythm and blues: the heart is speaking.
WINDOW: short vocal emerge
GEORGES: PAPA WEMBA’S MOTHER WAS JUST ELEVEN YEARS OLD WHEN HE WAS BORN, [ad lib] AND THE TWO OF THEM LIVED ALONE TOGETHER IN THE CITY FOR THE FIRST TEN YEARS OF HIS LIFE.
ACTY: 06_LUBANGI_ youth.wav: You are a child but yet responsible already at the age of six. It was not just go out and play. No. You had to be there helping your mother. So you learn so much, and quickly. By the time you become 10 years old, you already know what means what, who means what, what needs to be done. I mean by the time Papa Wamba became a teenager, he already knew how to organize his space, his house, his community.
WINDOW: short, just a breather
ACTY: 07_LUBANGI_ leader.wav: A little bit after that Papa Wemba took on a very important role that most people don't know about. The role of community leader. He was in charge of orientation of so many youths. He became coach of a youth soccer team in his neighborhood, Matonge. So he already had this leadership quality. He knew how to pick players, help them develop and become active in his community. So that shaped Papa Wemba's personality.
GEORGES: IN 1969, WHEN PAPA WEMBA WAS STILL A STUDENT, HE TEAMED UP WITH A CADRE OF AGEMATES TO FORM ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT BANDS IN CONGO MUSIC HISTORY: ZAÏKO LANGA LANGA.
WINDOW: M02_Miyélélé Omanga.mp3, Zaïko Langa Langa, YouTube (1974) (Top to 0:11, then to bed. Mike, this comes off someone’s vinyl and there’s a little “bump” at about 4 seconds. See if you can soften or eliminate it.)
ACTY: 08_PW_Zaïko-founding-EDIT: (French)
ACTY: 08_VO.wav: I was among the co-founders of Zaïko Langa Langa. At the time, there were not many young groups in Kinshasa. There was Thu Zaina, there was Simba, and there was Zaïko Langa Langa. It was unbelievable. It was like the Beatles in London. In every concert, Zaïko was attracting an incredible world, an insane world!
WINDOW: (up to 2:00, then to bed).
GEORGES: ZAÏKO LANGA LANGA WITH “MIYÉLÉLÉ OMANGA.”
ACTY: 09_PW_Zaïko-name.wav: (French)
ACTY: 09_VO.wav: Zaire Ya Bakoko, Zaire of our ancestors. Langa Langa is a flower that floats in the river. I was the one who gave this name, Langa Langa. That was me.
ACTY: 10_LUBANGI_ LangaLanga.wav: Langa Langa is a medicinal plant. Papa Wemba is the one who contributed that. You see again, his traditional background with his mother.
GEORGES: LUBANGI NOTES THAT ZAÏKO CHOSE THIS NAME TWO YEARS BEFORE PRESIDENT MOBUTU CHRYSTENED THE COUNTRY AS ZAIRE IN 1971.
ACTY: 11_LUBANGI_ Zaire_EDIT.wav: Zaire was the name that the Portuguese mispronounced instead of saying “nzadi,” which means river. Nzadi. In their ears, they heard Zaire. So they started calling that river Zaire. That's why it was easy for Mobutu’s government to say let's come out with a name that is somewhat neutral, that will include everybody. Because the river crossed the whole country.
ACTY: 12_PW_melange-EDIT.wav: (French)
ACTY: 12_VO.wav: When we started with Zaïko Lango Lango, it was the era of rhythm and blues, with big singers like James Brown, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Sam Cooke... My favorite was Otis Redding. And then in France it was the time of singers like Johnny Halladay and Claude Francois. We Zairian musicians tried to embrace it all, without forgetting that Congolese music began with Afro Cuban rhythm.
GEORGES: ZAÏKO PUT ASIDE THE BRASS SECTIONS USED IN OLDER BANDS, AND FOCUSSED ON COMPLEX VOCAL AND GUITAR ARRANGING. THE BAND HAD THE STYLE, THE POLITICS, AND A STRATEGY FOR BUILDING AN AUDIENCE.
ACTY: 13_LUBANGI_ Elite.wav: They befriended the children of the rich, the new elite, and they became their sponsors. Whatever they wanted to do, whether it was footing the bills or creating parties. Now, the elite themselves were hanging out with Franco and Kabasele. So their children created their own space.
WINDOW: M03_C'est la vérité.mp3, Zaïko Langa Langa, L'Afrique Danse Avec Zaïko Langa Langa (African/Sonodisc, 360.092) (top to 0:44, then to bed)
ACTY: 14_LUBANGI_ Zaïko-egos.wav: Zaïko was a bunch of egos. Each one of them wanted to showcase his talent, his ego. People with big egos, were those who were born in Kinshasa, 10 steps ahead of the ones who came as kids. I'll give you the example of Evoloko. His ego was through the roof. And then you had Gina Wagina. Then you had Mavuela. He was taller than any of them, bigger in life. It was not easy. You had Nyoka Longo who knew one to switch it on and off. So all of them were Zaïko. It was crazy.
WINDOW: (short vocal emerge)
ACTY: 15_LUBANGI_ Zaïko-lasts.wav: David Mwanda was the very first percussionist of Zaïko. I don't think he was a great percussionist. But he needed to be in the band and make sure the band grow its own legs and then could go. He was the one who actually founded Zaïko, who knew how to pick people. He picked the best. He set the tone for what the band was going to become. So you have him. You have Enoch Zamwangana. I believe he was the Vice President. I mean, well organized guy. Very disciplined behind all these singers. They allowed all these vedettes, these stars like Evoloko, Gino Wagina, Mbutu Machakada , to do whatever they needed to do to attract their clientele, their audience.. They let them do whatever. But when it came down to business., there was a team that held it together. And that's what made them last longer, until today I would say.
GEORGES: ZAÏKO HAS LASTED LONG, ALTHOUGH WITH A LOT OF TURNOVER. ONE OF THE FIRST TO LEAVE WAS PAPA WEMBA.
ACTY: 16_PW_4-bands.wav: (French)
ACTY: 16_VO.wav:. In a group where there are a lot of stars, there's always a Cold War. We spent four years in Zaïko, and then we quit, Evoloko, Mavuela, Bozi and me, to create the group Isifi Lokole. Isifi lasted only one year because we were all stars. We abandoned Evoloko and made another group Yoka Lokole. Now Yoka Lokole, it was again the same problem. So I slammed the door. I told myself, “Now, no more. I’m going on my own road.” That's when I created my own group, Viva la Musica.
GEORGES: THROUGHOUT HIS LONG CAREER, PAPA WEMBA REMAINED COMMITED TO TRADITIONAL MUSIC. THE “LOKOLE” IN THOSE BAND NAMES REFERS TO AN ANCIENT LOG DRUM. AND OF COURSE, THIS WAS THE BEGINNING OF PRESIDENT MOBUTU’S POLICY OF AUTHENTICITÉ, AN EFFORT TO ELIMINATE FOREIGN INFLUENCES IN HIS COUNTRY.
ACTY: 17_PW_authenticity-lokole-EDIT: (French)
ACTY: 17_VO.wav:.There was not really a complicity between Mobutu's politics and traditional music. But Mobutu did contribute enormously to that trend when he proclaimed the return to authenticity. All the musicians started singing in their maternal languages. And I was the first musician to incorporate a traditional instrument in modern Zairian music. I introduced the lokolé. This drum was used for communication between villages, like a wireless telephone. It makes just two sounds.
WINDOW: M04_Kitida.m4a, Papa Wemba and Viva La Musica, Mwana Molokai (Stern’s Africa, 740042301924) (crossfade under last speech to emerge after 00:08 when the lokole comes in clearly, just up to 00:21, then to bed)
ACTY: 18_LUBANGI_ Isifi.wav: Isifi did not work because they couldn't work together. Too many egos. And Papa Wemba was actually kicked out. “You're too much. Get out of here. This guy when he was with Zaïko, he seemed to be so together. What’s going on?” So they did Yoka Lokole. Same thing.
GEORGES: DURING THIS TURBULENT PERIOD, KINSHASA HOSTED THE ZAIRE 74 FESTIVAL, A STAR-STUDDED EVENT ACCOMPANYING THE LEGENDARY “RUMBLE IN THE JUNGLE” WITH MOHAMMED ALI AND JOE FRASER.
ACTY: 19_PW_Pacheco-VLM-EDIT.wav: (French)
ACTY: 19_VO.wav: I played at that festival with Zaïko Langa Langa. It was full, full, full of singers from all over the world: James Brown, B.B. King, Johnny Pacheco. I had seen James Brown. I had seen B.B. King. The discovery for me was Pacheco. That’s where I got the name Viva La Musica. It was Johnny Pacheco. At the end of each song he would shout, “Viva La Musica! Viva La Musica!” That's when I got the idea of creating a group that must be called Viva La Musica.
GEORGES: LUBANGI SAYS PAPA WEMBA HAD LEARNED SOMETHING FROM HIS FAILED, POST-ZAÏKO BANDS.
ACTY: 20_LUBANGI_ Zaïko-listen.wav: Remember, in his background he was the one who used to organize people in his community so they came together. He was able to listen. And this time Papa Wemba was, "OK, tell me what you want to see happen." That's how Viva la Musica became something.
GEORGES: AN EARLY HIT FOR VIVA LA MUSICA WAS “MERE SUPERIOR” “MOTHER SUPERIOR.” IT’S A CAGEY TITLE, NOT A RELIGIOUS SONG AT ALL, BUT RATHER A CRITIQUE OF FEMALE HYPORCISY IN AFFAIRS OF THE HEART.
WINDOW: M05_Mère Supérieure.m4a, Papa Wemba and Viva La Musica, Mwana Molokai - The First Twenty Years(Stern’s Africa, 740042301924) (top to 2:49, then to bed)
GEORGES: SUCH PLAYFUL ARRANGING! AND CUTTING LYRICS TO GO WITH IT, I TELL YOU. BUT FOR ALL THAT, PAPA WEMBA LIKE MOST OF HIS CONGOLESE PEERS NEVER SANG POLITICS.
ACTY: 21_PW_love-love-love.wav: (French)
ACTY: 21_VO.wav: No, no. Zairean musicians do not sing politically engaged songs. We sing about the love of women. Love, Love, Love.
GEORGES: BUT WITH VIVA LA MUSICA, WEMBA DID COMPOSE A SONG LAMENTING THE HISTORY OF BLACK SLAVERY. “ESCLAVE” WAS AN ANTHEM WEMBA WOULD REMAKE AT LEAST TWICE DURING HIS CAREER.
WINDOW: M06_Esclave (Original Version).m4a, Mwana Molokai - The First Twenty Years (crossfade under GC to emerge on “liberté” @ 4:22—5:18, then to bed)
GEORGES: PAPA WEMBA AND VIVA LA MUSICA WITH “ESCLAVE.” LUBANGI MUNIANIA SAYS THAT AROUND THIS TIME, PAPA WEMBA HAD A GIRLFRIEND, SHARUFA, AND SHE WAS AN IMPORTANT ADVISOR TO HIM AS HE ESTABLISHED HIS SOLO CAREER.
ACTY: 22_LUBANGI_ Fela.wav: The girlfriend was traveling and then went to Nigeria. It was the ‘70s and she went to Kalakuta. And then she saw how Fela was running Kalakuta. She said, "Papa Wemba, I saw this fellow who is in charge of his own thing. He created this republic that he called Kalakuta. I think you should create something. A village.” So that's how Papa Wemba was able to create Village Molokai. They were looking for a name. He picked this name out of Hawaii, one of the islands, Molokai.
GEORGES: MOLOKAI. ONCE AGAIN, A MADE-UP, NEUTRAL NAME--LIKE ZAIRE ITSELF—GUARANTEED NOT TO EXCLUDE ANY SECTOR OF HIS AUDIENCE.
MUSIC: M07_M'Odikenda.m4a, Papa Wemba, Legend (Next Music, 3 252411 201751) (top to 2:22 then to bed)
GEORGES: YOU HEAR IN THIS TRACK, “M’ODIKENDA,” HOW THE SOUND OF VIVA LA MUSIC IS EVOLVING, BRINGING IN NEW INSTRUMENTS, LIKE ACCORDION, RICH CHORAL REFRAINS, AND HERE, A CONGOLESE BALUBA RHTYTHM, NOT THE USUAL CONGO RUMBA. IN THE ERA OF MOBUTU’S AUTHENTICITE, THE PUBLIC LOVED IT.
ACTY: 23_LUBANGI_movement.wav: It was such a movement, a rush. People wanted to re-create themselves with names, with companies. It was a great moment to live in Zaire to see how these people who were denied the freedom of recreating themselves, because that's what Africa was. People were recreating themselves. Creating kingdoms. Nobody told them what to do until the Europeans came in and everything was shut off.
WINDOW: (a bit more then bed.)
GEORGES: IN 1987, AT THE HEIGHT OF THE MOBUTU REGIME, ORIGINAL MEMBERS OF ZAÏKO LANGA LANGA CAME TOGETHER FOR THEIR 18TH REUNION. THERE WERE TWO CONCERTS, AND AS IT HAPPENED, AFROPOP WORLDWIDE WAS THERE TO RECORD BOTH OF THEM! A HUGE CROWD GATHERED ON THE KINSHASA ESPLANADE, AND THEY WERE THRILLED TO SEE PAPA WEMBA BACK WITH HIS OLD ZAÏKO CRONIES.
BED: 24_Zaïko_Esplanade_ambiance.wav (use as needed to establish the scene)
ACTY: 25_Wemba+crowd_Esplanade.wav (here, we need to mix this ACTY with the next one in which Lubangi is roughly translating what Wemba is saying to the crowd. You will need to do some chopping back and forth between the two to make it flow)
ACTY: 26_LUBANGI_Wemba-MC.wav: Papa Wemba’s interaction with the crowd was quite interesting. Papa Wemba was very comical. He improvised his role as MC in a way. So he was asking, “Who remembers the title of this song?” And of course some people remembered. Then he said, “But who remembers the author of this song.” And then he would say, “If you get it right, I'll pay you 5000 Zaires, back then.” And then Mbuta Machakado came on the podium. And then Papa Wemba made a joke about “Why wasn’t Mbuta Machakado with us yesterday? He should tell you why.” Because it was about the money probably. He wanted him to tell people why they didn’t pay him. So he put him on the spot and then the crowd liked that.
GEORGES: WELL 18 YEARS HAD GONE BY, BUT ZAÏKO’S MAGIC, ESPECIALLY THE BLENDING AND LAYERING OF THESE FANTASTIC VOCALISTS, SOUNDED BETTER THAN EVER.
GEORGES: ZAÏKO LANGA LANGA WITH PAPA WEMBA IN THE BAND’S 18TH ANNIVERSARY REUNION IN KINSHASA, WAY BACK IN 1987. HOW ABOUT THAT? COMING UP, PAPA WEMBA GOES INTERNATIONAL, AND REDISCOVERS HIS LOVE OF RUMBA. VISIT AFROPOP.ORG FOR MUCH MORE ON PAPA WEMBA. I’M GEORGES COLLINET WITH YOU ON AFROPOP WORLDWIDE FROM PRX.
WINDOW: 20-second break: M09_Papa Wemba - Azanga (feat. Sekouba Bambino).mp3, Papa Wemba, Forever de génération en génération (Cantos, B01MRFY05O)
ACTY: 27_PW_Sape.wav: (French)
ACTY: 27_VO.wav: When I created my group Viva La Musica, I said I have to get beyond the ordinary. If you look at rock bands, what distinguished them was often their accoutrements. So I said, “OK I need to tap into something that the others have never done.” It was a rebellion. So I started wearing clothes from the great fashion designers of France and Japan and Italy.
GEORGES: PAPA WEMBA’S STYLE SPARKED A MOVEMENT CALLED LA SAPE. IT WAS AN ACRONYM: S A P E. SOCIETE DES AMBIANCEURS ET PERSONNES ELEGANT. IT ALSO MEANS “CLOTHING” IN FRENCH SLANG.
ACTY: 28_LUBANGI_LeSape.wav: But the state of mind came way before the acronym. It's always been part of the tradition. If somebody died back then, the only possession that you were buried with was clothes. Now, the very first day Viva la Musica came out on the TV, you see Papa Wemba wearing this hat, velvet suit, shining shoes, and they asked him about it. He talked about it. He gave it a name. Muniere. Oh my goodness, the whole of Kinshasa wanted to wear that Muniere. It's like, you wear something that is out of reach, your value goes up. It became a whole different, interesting dynamic. “I'm just gonna drink, have fun, and dress well. “But where do you get the money?” “Don’t worry about it.” So the soundtrack for that movement was Viva la Musica. They became actors in a way. It was a roll they were playing.
WINDOW: M10_Matebu.m4a, Papa Wemba, Mwana Molokai - The First Twenty Years (emerge 2:35-2:48, where he lists designers)
GEORGES: THE SAPEUR CRAZE WAS ALSO HUGE IN PARIS, WHERE MORE AND MORE CONGOLESE MUSICIANS WERE ESTABLISHING THEMSELVES IN THE 1980S. INCLUDING PAPA WEMBA, AS HE NOTED IN THE SONG “JEUNE HOMME A PARIS” “YOUNG MAN IN PARIS.”
MUSIC: M11_Jeune Homme Ya Paris.m4a, Papa Wemba, Modogo Gian Franco Ferre & L'Orchestre Viva La Musica, Place Vendome (SonoDisc 3 252418 846658) (emerge on guitar riff at 1:05—2:52, then to bed)
ACTY: 29_PW_Paris-Pros-EDIT.wav: (French)
ACTY: 29_VO.wav: Paris, for me, was the crossroads for African artists. If I came from an Anglophone country, I would move to London, because London is the capital of music in the world. Everyone talks about London, not the United States. The U.S. is asleep. When you do well in London, the U.S. is easy. You clap your hands and you’re there. When I moved to Paris, I met showbiz professionals. That changed everything. Compared to my colleagues who stayed in the country, I’ve become far more advanced.
GEORGES: IN 1987, PAPA WEMBA INTRODUCED A NEW PARIS-BASED BAND. HE RELEASED A SELF TITLED ALBUM, PAPA WEMBA, AND ANNOUNCED A NEW PHASE OF HIS CAREER. TO GIVE YOU AN IDEA, HERE’S VIVA LA MUSICA WITH THEIR EIGHT-MINUTE VERSION OF THE SONG “ANALENGO.”
WINDOW: M12_Analengo-old-excerpt.wav, Papa Wemba, Mwana Molokai (first 30 seconds, then to bed)
GEORGES: AND HERE’S THE FIVE-MINUTE REMAKE WITH THE NEW PARIS BAND.
WINDOW: M13_Analengo.m4a, Papa Wemba, Papa Wemba (Stern’s Africa, 5 017742 102621) (top to 1:10, then to bed)
ACTY: 30_PW_Abandon.wav: (French)
ACTY: 30_VO.wav: I've seen singers like Alpha Blondy, Youssou N'Dour, Mory Kante, Salif Keita who are almost like me. But they have understood that you have to go to Europe, to leave Africa, in order to promote your music throughout the world. I have slammed the door on the music I made in Zaire. I abandoned my musicians who came with me to Europe. I am now playing with professional musicians who live in Paris.
GEORGES: PAPA WEMBA WAS WEARY OF THE FANATICISM IN KINSHASA. “FROM MORNING TO NIGHT,” HE TOLD US, “ALL THEY WANT TO HEAR IS ZAIREAN MUSIC.”
ACTY: 31_PW_NoSoukous.wav: (French)
ACTY: 31_VO.wav: They prefer Viva la Musica because that's their group. That’s their music. They understand it easily. And the new band? Well, it's not their style, because there's no soukous in it.
GEORGES: SO HOW DID WEMBA’S NEW BAND GO DOWN IN KINSHASA?
ACTY: 32_LUBANGI_angry-EDIT.wav: It didn't go well. Number one. What gave them this desire to go to Europe was Kanda Bongo Man. Kanda Bongo Man left Zaire a long time before. We didn't hear about him. And then suddenly Kanda Bongo Man is on TV in France. And Papa Wemba was like, “What? This guy was not near my success. So how can he do this in Europe?” So Papa Wemba’s success in Africa did not bring him money. People were broke. And he was like, “Wait a minute, I can’t just have success. I need to have money.” And of course the villagers of Molokai, his village, they were very angry. “Papa? What are you doing?”
WINDOW: M14_Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa (Sad Song)-edit.wav, Papa Wemba, Emotion (Real World, 0 1704-62351-2 9) (top to 0:58, then to bed)
GEORGES: FOR PAPA WEMBA, COVERING HIS IDOL OTIS REDDING WAS A DREAM COME TRUE, AND A HIT ON HIS 1995 ALBUM EMOTION, RELEASED ON PETER GABRIEL’S REAL WORLD RECORDS. NOW WEMBA HAD REACHED LONDON, AND ANOTHER NEW CHAPTER OF HIS CAREER WAS BEGINNING.
MUSIC: M15_Mandola.m4a, Papa Wemba, Emotion (top to 1:33, then to bed)
GEORGES: WITH THE ALBUM EMOTION, PAPA WEMBA WAS MAKING A STATEMENT TO HIS FANS.
ACTY: 33_PW_Emotion.wav: (French)
ACTY: 33_VO.wav: I told the producer Stephen Hague that I wanted to put the emphasis on my voice. Because a lot of people when they speak about Papa Wemba they say I am a sapeur. I am not a sapeur. I am a singer before everything. This was a challenge I face, to prove to people that I am first and foremost, a singer.
GEORGES: WITH THE REAL WORLD CONTRACT, AMERICAN TOURS FOLLOWED, JUST AS WEMBA HAD FORESEEN. WITH HIS PARIS BAND, HE OPENED UP FOR PETER GABRIEL AT MADISON SQUARE GARDEN IN 1993. WEMBA STILL PERFORMED WITH VIVA LA MUSICA IN AFRICA, BUT SOON, TENSIONS AROSE. THE REAL WORLD CONTRACT ALLOWED FOR JUST ONE ALBUM A YEAR, NOT ENOUGH BANDWIDTH FOR THIS POWERHOUSE ARTIST.
ACTY: 34_LUBANGI_ 2 bands.wav: So he was there in France hanging around, going to the studio. And people said, “Wait a minute. We can't just see you on the street. We need to see you on stage.” So that's when he said, “You know what? I signed the contract as Papa Wemba. But this band Viva la Musica did not sign the contract”. So he started playing with Viva la Musica again, doing concerts every Saturday. He went back to Kinshasa and created another band for the Kinshasa audience. And he became very busy.
GEORGES: VERY BUSY INDEED. THE DISCOGRAPHY FROM THIS PERIOD DOESN’T LIE. THE NEW VIVA LA MUSICA ALBUMS KEPT COMING, WITH PAPA WEMBA SHARING THE MIC WITH HIS TWO LOYAL VOCALITS, STINO AND REDDY AMISI. THIS WAS THE NOUVELLE GENERATION, THE “NEW GENERATION,” HONORING, BUT NOT CONSTRAINED BY THE OLD RUMBA RULES. NOW PAPA WEMBA WAS HAILED AS “THE KING OF RUMBA ROCK.”
MUSIC: M16_Foridoles.m4a, Papa Wemba & Viva La Musica, Foridoles (Sonodisc 3 252417242451) (top to 2:18, then to bed) [[
GEORGES: VIVA LA MUSICA WITH “FORIDOLES.” ONCE AGAIN, THE KINSHASA PUBLIC EMBRACED PAPA WEMBA. AND THE FEELING WAS MUTUAL.
WINDOW/BED: M17_Recours.wav, Viva la Musica, Nouvelle Ecriture Avec Papa Wemba (Sonodisc, 3 252411883353) (short window, quickly to bed)
ACTY: 35_PW_BelKin.wav: (French)
ACTY: 35_VO.wav: Many people think that I am naturalized Belgian or French. No. I have remained Congolese. I defend that. I love that. It’s my country. What is fabulous in Kinshasa now is that every week during the weekends, you have concerts in open air in different places. There are big groups like Bana OK, Zaïko Langa Langa, Kofi Olomide, Werason, J.B. Mpiana, Faly Ipupa, Fere Gola, Redy Amisi, Viva la Musica. And the audience is always there with you. There is a kind of competition, but also loyalty. I love the life of this town. The Kinois always show their hearts with a smile. They will take you in, they will feed you, and they will ask for nothing in return.
WINDOW: M18_Ilème Eve.m4a, Papa Wemba, Somo Trop (Sono/Nextmusic, 3 252411 914750)
GEORGES: IN 1997, THE MOBUTU GOVERNMENT IN ZAIRE WAS OVERTHROWN, AND THE COUNTRY BECAME THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO, WITH LAURENT KABILA AS PRESIDENT. IT WAS A TURBULENT TIME. PAPA WEMBA WAS BARELLING INTO THE 21ST CENTURY WITH NEW HOPES AND DREAMS. BUT THERE WAS TROUBLE ON THE HORIZON.
WINDOW: (emerge 1:01—1:19, then to bed)
ACTY: 36_LUBANGI_prison.wav: The country was going down. It was being destroyed, attacked from outside, from within. Things were really bad, terrible. And when Kabila took over, no one was allowed to come out of the country. But however, musicians such as Papa Wemba were allowed to go out with their groups. Like 25 members. 27. That's when people approached him and said, “They trust you. They don't trust us. I’m already old enough. I can die here. But I want my child to have a chance to go to school. Because what’s coming is just going to be war, after war, after war. We know this." And that's when Papa Wemba became involved in helping, especially the youngsters, to leave. But it was illegal. Somebody said, “You know what? We think Papa Wemba is traveling with too many people. 30 people? How many of them are musicians?” So when they checked, they realized that maybe 15 of them were not musicians. After the concert they never went back. Who would want to go back where they were raping women and killing? Some people say, in Germany it was the same way. They were trying to help people when Hitler was assassinating. Anything. You need to buy a passport use someone else's passport just get out. That's what happened.
GEORGES: PAPA WEMBA SPENT A FEW MONTHS IN PRISON, BUT HE WAS RELEASED ON APPEAL WHEN THE COURT LATER TOOK MERCY ON HIM. THE NEXT TIME WE SPOKE, BY TELEPHONE, HE HAD NOTHING TO SAY ABOUT THIS INCIDENT.
ACTY: 37_PW_headache.wav: (French)
ACTY: 37_VO.wav: No no. That is over. I don't want to talk about this anymore. I have spoken too much about it, enough to give me a headache. I don’t talk about it anymore.
GEORGES: THE WORD WAS THAT IN PRISON, PAPA WEMBA HAD BEEN BORN AGAIN.
ACTY: 38_LUBANGI_evangelical.wav: It was an evangelical wave that took over the whole country, because of the war. There was no solution. The only solution was God. They saw people who were praying. Somehow they became calmer, at peace. So Papa Wemba being in prison for the first time in his life… He thought he was doing something good for the people, and then it turned out to be wrong. So of course, people went up to him and started talking about religion. “Just give everything to God and you will get peace.” That's how Papa Wemba converted himself into an evangelical. It was sincere.
GEORGES: THE LAST TIME WE SPOKE WITH PAPA WEMBA WAS IN 2010, AT THE WOMEX TRADE FAIR IN COPENHAGEN. HIS RUN-IN WITH THE LAW WAS FIVE YEARS BEHIND HIM, AND HE WAS FULLY ENGAGED IN HIS MUSIC, AS YOU CAN HEAR IN THIS LIVE WOMEX SET.
MUSIC: M19_PWemba-WOMEX_MfonoYami.wav, Mfono Yami, live.
ACTY: 39_PW_TheStage.wav: (French)
ACTY: 39_VO.wav: I love this. I love to tour and do concerts. Even in small rooms. I adore it. I can come with 10 people in the audience, with the same energy, and the same determination. Even if it's thousands of people at a festival, it's the same energy, the same force. Because for me the stage is one of the places where I free myself. Totally.
GEORGES: PAPA WEMBA’S LOVE OF THE STAGE IS IRONIC, BECAUSE IN APRIL OF 2016, WHILE PERFORMING AT A FESTIVAL IN ABIDJAN, HE FELL SUDDENLY ON THE STAGE AND DIED, JUST 66 YEARS OLD. ONE OF HIS LAST ALBUMS WAS CALLED NOTRE PERE RUMBA “OUR FATHER RUMBA.” IT’S A SIGN THAT IN HIS LATTER YEARS, PAPA WEMBA HAD RESOLVED THE CONTRADICTIONS OF HIS LIFE, EMBRACING HIS RUMBA ROOTS WITHOUT SACRIFICING ANY OF HIS UNIQUE AND WORLDLY IDENTITY. WELL DONE, BROTHER WEMBIADO! YOU WILL NOT BE FORGOTTEN.
WINDO/BED: M20_Rideau Blanc.m4a, Papa Wemba, Notre Pere Rumba (Sino Performance/Cantos, 3 700409806902)
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ACTY: 40_PW_greeting.wav: (French)
PROMO TEXT (THIS PROGRAM, AND NEXT)
PAPA WEMBA WAS A GIANT OF AFRICAN MUSIC, A KING OF CONGOLESE RUMBA, A GUARDIAN OF TRADITIONS, A CONSUMATE INNOVATOR, AND A VOCALIST EXTRAORDINAIRE. [vocal window] HELLO I’M GEORGES COLLINET, JOIN ME FOR “REMEMBERING PAPA WEMBA,” NEXT TIME ON AFROPOP WORLDWIDE FROM PRX.