Forty-four years into his musical career – highlighted by his humble beginnings in the Zaiko Langa-Langa group in 1969 and the creation of his band Viva La Musica in 1977 – DRC superstar Jules Shungu Wembadio, aka Papa Wemba, can now safely say that he has accomplished his mission.
Wemba’s mission, whose fundamental aim was to put his impoverished country back on the map and conquers the world, consisted of telling the African story, entertaining the cosmopolitan crowds, fulfilling his dream of worldwide notoriety, and finally leaving a legacy of a gamechanger in the Congolese pop culture.
On paper, this mission sounded as easy as abc, but in reality, however, it was a huge mountain to climb given the complexities surrounding the ingredients needed to fulfill that mission.
Turning the clock back to the late sixties, when he began his career in Zaiko, the man known by a countless of nicknames, such as Kuru Yaka, Vieux Bokul, Ekumany, Mwalimu and Mzee, says the group was influenced by various beats.
“We were influenced by a lot of things, namely Afro-Cuban music, rock, rhythm and blues from the US, and our own traditional rhythms,” he says in an interview, published in the Real World Records website.
The Real World Records label was founded by musician, producer and humanitarian Peter Gabriel, a man who Papa Wemba considers as a father and a spiritual guide.
But the critical moment of Bokul’s career remains the creation in 1977 of Viva La Musica, after a brief stint in Yoka Lokole and Isifi Lokole.
The group went on to tour Europe initially with the support of the late musician Franco Luambo Makiadi. He and his young protégés such as Reddy Amisi, Cele le Roi and Stino Mubi later toured Japan, wowing the difficult Asian crowds. Many believe these two trips galvanised Papa to seek worldwide notoriety by adding a world music flavour to his Congolese sound.
That’s when albums such as ‘Le Voyageur’ (1992) and ‘Emotion’ (1995) came into being, thanks to his collaboration with Peter Gabriel. A star was born, and Wemba was welcomed with open arms by cosmopolitan music fans as one of the true sons of world music.
Consequently Kuru Yaka embarked on a world tour, including the US, culminating to an explosion of his music and the ‘graduation’ from the world music as one of the maestros of African music.
Today, whenever world music lovers listen to tracks such as ‘Beau Garcon Christian Itela’, ‘Ye te oh’, ‘Complice’, ‘Jean-Paul Walter’, ‘Ainsi soit-il’, ‘Mesatone’, among others, they continue to pay tribute to one of Africa’s most acclaimed musical heroes.
In his life, now spanning over six decades (he is 63-year-old), Ekumany – the father of over 20 children – has done this and that. As a gamechanger, he showed the Congolese youth how to dress and be chic to be noticed among the crowds. Some even blame him for fostering a culture of ‘slavery of fashion and luxury’, and an un-African practice of unnecessarily showing off in the Congolese society.
Papa Wemba’s musical milestone deserves to be reflected on and celebrated because he remains a vital source of inspiration for many musos in Africa, and a great musical hero for his country.
Ecce Homo! This is Sifa News’ moving tribute to the King of Rhumba-Rock.
Photo by Johnny de Joburg. Papa Wemba in live concert at the Sankai Club in Johannesburg.