Papa Wemba, the Congolese rumba musician whose African beat conquered Europe too, has died after collapsing on stage during a concert in Ivory Coast. Wemba, 66, was performing in a music festival on Saturday afternoon in the capital Abidjan and was on to his third song when he was taken ill.
Footage shows fellow musicians and dancers rushing to his aid as he collapsed. He was treated on stage by Red Cross workers then taken to hospital but was declared dead soon afterwards.
Henri Noel Mbuta Vokia, his spokesman, confirmed his death and said that, watching on live television, he thought his collapse was part of the performance. “I then saw the Red Cross workers rushing on to the stage,” he said. “Then the Ivorian television signal was cut. I tried to call his manager Cornelie abroad. He told me he collapsed in the middle of the concert.
“He was transferred to hospital. I called back ten minutes later and was told he was in intensive care. I called back 30 minutes later and Cornelie told me Papa Wemba had passed on.”
Born Jules Shungu Wembadio Pene Kibumba in 1949, in what was then Belgian Congo, Wemba’s mother was a professional wailing woman at funerals. He first came to prominence in the 1960s with his band Zaïko before going solo.
He became one of the first musicians whose output was characterised as “world music”, and spawned the Sapeurs movement, whose members would spend large sums of money to ensure they were elegantly dressed.
In 2004, he was convicted of smuggling immigrants into France by disguising them as members of his band.
He was known as the King of Rumba Rock, and worked with international stars including former Genesis singer Peter Gabriel. Five days ago, he posted a picture on his Twitter account of a 1995 appearance with the late David Bowie on the Jools Holland Show, describing it as “a very happy memory”.