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|Born||1949 (age 65–66)
Lubefu, Sankuru District, Belgian Congo
|Associated acts||Zaiko Langa Langa, Viva la Musica|
Papa Wemba was born Jules Shungu Wembadio Pene Kikumba in 1949 in Lubefu (Sankuru District, Belgian Congo). He is a Congolese rumba (later known as soukous) musician, one of Africa's most popular musicians, and prominent in world music.
Zaiko Langa Langa
Papa Wemba was one of the very first musicians to join the influential Soukous band, Zaiko Langa Langa when it was created in December 1969 in Kinshasa along with such well known Congolese musicians as Nyoka Longo Jossart, Manuaku Pepe Felly, Evoloko Lay Lay, Bimi Ombale, Teddy Sukami, Zamuangana Enock, Mavuela Simeon, Clan Petrole and others.
In a Congolese musical world dominated at the time by Franco Luambo and his remarkable band TPOK Jazz, Tabu Ley Rochereau's Afrisa, and by then-new musical groups such as Les Grands Maquisards, Le Trio Madjesi, and even younger bands such as Bella-Bella, Thu Zaina and Empire Bakuba, the young and talented Papa Wemba (then known as Jules Presley Shungu Wembadio) was one of the driving forces that, by 1973, made Zaiko Langa Langa one of the most-performing dominant Congolese groups, featuring such popular numbers as "Chouchouna" (Papa Wemba), "Eluzam" and " Mbeya Mbeya" (Evoloko Lay Lay), "BP ya Munu" (Efonge Gina), "Mwana Wabi" and "Mizou" (Bimi Ombale) and "Zania" (Mavuela Somo).
In December 1974, at the pinnacle of their fame (and just a month after the Rumble in the Jungle between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in Kinshasa), Shungu Wembadio (Papa Wemba), along with Evoloko Lay Lay, Mavuela Somo and Bozi Boziana (who had joined Zaiko Langa Langa a year earlier), left Zaiko Langa Langa to establish their own musical ensemble Isifi Lokole, ISIFI being an acronym for "Institut du Savoir Ideologique pour la Formation des Idoles". Yet of course, not everything that Wemba claims in earnest can be taken as gospel. In July 1975, Shungu Wembadio officially adopted the soon-to-be-well-known worldwide artist name Papa Wemba, the addition of "Papa" (father) an allusion to what were in fact rather awesome family responsibilities as the first son in a family where both father and mother (Wemba's parents) had been deceased since the 1960s.
The "feux d'artifice" (fireworks) that was Isifi Lokole would only last a year, with the single "Amazone" (Papa Wemba) as its biggest commercial "hit" record. In November 1975, Papa Wemba, Mavuela Somo and Bozi Boziana abandoned Evoloko Lay Lay and Isifi Lokole to create the group Yoka Lokole (also known as The Kinshasa's Wa Fania All-Stars, or Lokole Isifi, or simply Isifi), along with Mbuta Mashakado, another Zaiko Langa Langa "transfusion". Yoka Lokole enjoyed slightly less popular success than the original Isifi Lokole, but for a time still managed to remain at the top the African pop music wave with hit songs including "Matembele Bangui", "Lisuma ya Zazu" (Papa Wemba), "Mavuela Sala Keba", and "Bana Kin" (Mavuela Somo).
Like Isifi Lokole, the electronic-instrument-driven Yoka Lokole (or The Kinshasa All-Stars) would not last much longer than a year, given the merger of so many big-name talents in the band's lineup. After a year of modest success, controversies within Yoka Lokole over money and prestige (complicated by Wemba's arrest and brief incarceration in Kinshasa Central prison in December 1976 for the "crime" of being suspected of having had physical intimacy with an influential army general's daughter) would lead Papa Wemba, then feeling diminished by peers and neglected by the public, to form his own group Viva la Musica in February 1977, after a very brief return to Isifi Lokole and Stukas Boys of Lita Bembo, where he played for a few weeks as a guest.
Viva la Musica
At his home in the Matonge neighborhood of Kinshasa, Papa Wemba structured Viva la Musica around young talented artists such as singers Kisangani Esperant, Jadot le Cambodgien, Pepe Bipoli and Petit Aziza, guitarists Rigo Star, Syriana, and Bongo Wende. A young man by the name of Antoine Agbepa (currently known as Koffi Olomide), whose friend were calling "Cheri O", was the unknown writer of most of the group's hit songs. The group had nearly instantaneous success with hit songs that included "Mere Superieure," "Mabele Mokonzi", "Bokulaka," "Princesse ya Sinza", and others.
At the height of his success in 1977, Papa Wemba's family home, in Kanda-Kanda street, which had become a popular, some even said hallowed place for Matonge youths to gather "à la mode" (i.e., to be cool), was named the "Village Molokai," and Wemba assumed the exalted moniker "Chef Coutumier" (Chief) of the Village of Molokai. That village in the heart of Matonge, included the following streets, which firsts letters were used to form the acronym: M-O-LO-KA-I: Masimanimba-Oshwe-LOkolama-KAnda-kanda-Inzia.
In those days people referred to Wemba as the "chief from the heartland (village)" to differentiate him from Kinshasa-born musical bigshots Mavuela Somo and Mashakado. However, years later Mavuela would say that their difficulties simply amounted to trivial foolishness over money, ambition and fame between some very young people (as at the time they all were).
Since 1977, Viva la Musica has seen both the "defections" of musicians every two or three years and the entrée and emergence of other new talents. Fafa de Molokai, Debs Debaba, King Kester Emeneya (1977–82), Koffi Olomide, as a singer, (1978–79), Djuna Djanana (1978–81), Dindo Yogo (1979–1981), Maray-Maray (1980–84), Lidjo Kwempa (1982–2001), Reddy Amissi (1982–2001), Stino Mubi (1983–2001) are among the currently well-known Congolese musicians who have served at one time or another with Viva la Musica. An old Kinshasa anecdote says that a college student then-named Antoine Agbepa Koffi was such an impressive songwriter that one day in 1977 Papa Wemba exclaimed, "Ooh! l'homme idee" (Oh! the idea-man!), thereby on-the-spot renaming the impressive young singer-songwriter Koffi Olomide - and the name stuck.
After the wave of African emigration to Europe in the 1990s, Wemba maintained one group in Kinshasa (called at times "Nouvelle Ecriture", "Nouvel Ecrita", and now again "Viva la Musica") and another one in Paris ("Nouvelle Generation," "La Cour des Grands," and now "Viva Tendance"). He has also consistently maintained a high profile in world music with such great hits as "L'Esclave" (1986), "Le Voyageur, Maria Valencia" (1992), "Foridoles, Dixieme Commandement" (1994), "Emotion" (1995), "Pole Position" (1996), "M’Zée Fula-Ngenge" (1999), "Bakala dia Kuba" (2001), and "Somo Trop" (2003).
Wemba is also known as an actor. In 1987, he played the male lead role in the successful Zairean (Congolese) film La Vie est Belle by Belgian director Benoît Lamy and Congolese producer-director Ngangura Mweze. In 2012, he had a cameo role in the Belgian drama film Kinshasa Kids.
High and low times
On 18 February 2003, suspected of being involved in a network that has allegedly smuggled hundreds of illegal immigrants from the Democratic Republic of Congo (former Zaire) into Europe, Papa Wemba was arrested at his home in Paris.
He was eventually found guilty at some level in June 2003 and spent three and a half months in prison, an experience that, on his release after a €30,000 bail was posted, he declared had had a profound psychological effect on him. The singer claimed to have undergone a spiritual conversion in jail and even recounted this episode on his album Somo Trop (released in October 2003). On the song "Numéro d'écrou", he recalled the day "God" paid a visit to his cell.
The Sapeur cult promoted high standards of personal cleanliness, hygiene and smart dress, to a whole generation of youth across Zaire. When I say well groomed, well shaved, well perfumed, it's a Characteristic that I am insisting on among the young. I don't care about their education, since education always comes first of all from the family.
- Pauline (1970, Zaiko Langa Langa)
- L'Amoureux Decu (1972, Zaiko Langa Langa)
- Mete la Verite, Chouchouna (1973, Zaiko Langa Langa)
- Liwa ya Somo (1973–1974, Zaiko Langa Langa)
- Ainsi Va La Vie, Amazone (1975, Isifi Lokole)
- Matembele Bangi, Lisuma ya Zazu (1976, Yoka Lokole)
- Mere Superieure, Bokulaka, Mabele Mokonzi, Muana Molokai (1977)
- Princesse ya Senza, Fleur Betoko, Zonga-Zonga (1978)
- Anibo, Ata Nkale (1979)
- Levre Rose (1979, with Rochereau & Afrisa)
- Telegramme (1979, with Simaro Massiya & OK. Jazz)
- Analengo (1980), Amena (1980, duo with Pepe Kalle)
- Santa, Matebu (1980, first full album in Paris)
- Melina La Parisienne, Ufukutano (1981)
- Evenement, Rendre A Caesar (1982)
- Eliana, Bukavu Dawa (1983)
- Proclamation (1984, in Paris with Ngashie Niarchos)
- Destin ya Moto (1985)
- L'esclave, Papa Wemba – Au Japon (live) (1986)
- Papa Wemba Ekumani (1987)
- M'fono Yami (1989)
- Biloko ya Moto-Adidas Kiesse (1991)
- Le Voyageur (1992)
- Foridoles (1994)
- Emotion, Real World Records (1995)
- Pôle Position (1996)
- Wake-Up (1996, duo with Koffi Olomide)
- Nouvelle Ecriture (1997)
- Molokaï (1998)
- Nouvelle Ecriture dans L (1998)
- M’Zée Fula-Ngenge (1999)
- Muana Matebu(1999)
- A La Une (2000)
- Zea (2001)
- Bakala Dia Kuba (2001)
- Somo Trop (2003)
- Muana Molokaï (2004)
- Ba Zonkion (2005)
- Cheeky Summer time - Collab with Father J (2004)
- Attention L'artiste (2006)
- New Morning, album and DVD (2006)
- Notre Père Rumba (2010)
- Maître D'école ( 2014)
- Les Habits neufs du gouverneur (The Governor's New Clothes) (2004)
- Combat de fauves (1997) - The African
- La Vie est Belle (Life Is Beautiful) (1987) - Kourou
- Harris, Craig. "Biography: Papa Wemba". Allmusic. Retrieved 15 June 2010.
- Erroll Barnett, "The fashion cult cut from a different cloth", Inside Africa - CNN, November 9, 2012.
- CBC Radio Dispatches, "Revellers and Elegant People", February 10, 2011
- "Enter the SAPE, 1980-1982", Papa Wemba website.