Congo-Kinshasa: Papa Wemba’s East African Connection
By Amos Ngaira
Congolese rumba maestero Papa Wemba was buried this past Wednesday in Kinshasa, DR Congo, in a celebration of a life that touched many music lovers around the world.
Papa Wemba was laid to rest at the Necropolis Cemetery in Kinshasa. Earlier, there was a requiem mass at the St Mary’s Catholic Church. Among the mourners were leading musicians Lutumba Simaro, Nyoka Longo, Bozi Boziana, JB Mpiana, Werrra Son, Fally Ipupa and South Africa’s Yvonne Chakachaka.
On Monday, the public paid its last respect to the musician at at the People Parliament Buildings. Papa Wemba’s widow Mama Amazone caused a stir when she refused to shake the hand of veteran musician and producer Kiamwangana Mateta Verkys.
It is alleged that there had been bad blood between Verkys and Papa Wemba over music royalties.
In East Africa where Papa Wemba was a household name, many fans are still reeling from his sudden death during a live performance in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire.
The Congolese singer will be remembered for his soft spot for East Africa, where he stayed connected with his legion of fans through concerts.
Although his music was in Lingala and French, he was so keenly aware of the influence of the lingua franca of East Africa, Kiswahili, in connecting more deeply with his fans in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi, that he had a sprinkling of lyrics in some of his hit songs in the language, to further endear himself to his fans.
Keen to reach out to more of his fans in East Africa, Papa Wemba would release the album Emotion in 1995 featuring the English-titled Kiswahili song, Rail On, with the famous lyrics:”Machozi yangu yote namalizika, Mie nitalala na nani?We unaendaMie mpaka ni Mawazo woo woo Mie mpaka ni kuwazawaza we unaenda, unaenda Kama ile njia yako enda kama ni maisha yako fata wee dada! rail on, rail on rail onrail on think that is the wayrail on, rail on rail onrail on think that is the way”
But more importantly, Papa Wemba not only visited East Africa numerous times to perform, but also reached out to mentor young musicians — the most notable being Tanzanian superstar Diamond Platinumz, with whom he did a yet to be released collabo.
His sudden death at a music festival in Abidjan, shocked many of his fans across the region, and his passing on marks the loss of Congolese music’s most beloved icon since Franco in 1989.
Tanzanian singer Diamond Platinumz was among the most devastated on hearing that his idol had passed on and it was particularly because of a duet he recorded with Papa Wemba.
In a tweet he posted last Sunday soon after Papa Wemba’s death was announced, Diamond wrote: “Just four weeks ago, we were in Paris, you featured me in your song and we had planned a lot for the song and suddenly got the news that you are gone…”
Diamond, like most East African artistes, looked up to Papa Wemba for inspiration both in terms of live shows and recordings.
The song, Rail On, is probably one of Papa Wemba’s most popular here with musicians across East Africa doing cover versions during concerts. It was also a favourite of contestants during the regional Tusker Project Fame reality TV show a few years ago.
Kenyan dancer and singer Kanda King, formerly known as Kanda Kid, remembers Papa Wemba as an inspirational musician.
“I had an opportunity to interact and share the stage with him during his performances in Kenya. I found him to be a down-to-earth person,” he said. Wemba performed during the Koroga Festival and Airtel Festivals in Nairobi.
Kanda, who was inspired to take up Lingala dancing by another Congolese superstar, Kanda Bongo Man, also said that alongside his African Rhythms Band he often did cover versions of Papa Wemba songs like Iyolele and Rail On.
Papa Wemba had since the late 1980s and 1990s managed three segments of his Orch Viva La Musica Band. There was a Paris-based one, another in Kinshasa, and one that accompanied him on tours across the world.
He was the second Congolese artiste after Tabu Ley Rochereau, his mentor, to sign with the international music label, Real World, owned by of Peter Gabriel. Under the label, he produced three albums, The Traveller (1992), Emotion (1995), and Molokai (1998). allAfrica.com