The musician from DRC died in the middle of the stage while he was singing. He had apparently just started his performance and after singing three songs collapsed, to everyone’s surprise.
His press secretary, Henri Noel Mbuta, told local radio stations in Kinshasa. "Around 5:10am Abidjan time, Papa Wemba had been called onto stage to perform . He sang the first and the second song. While singing the third song, he collapsed. I was following the concert live on television. I saw the dancers surround Papa Wemba. I thought it was part of the show, but then I saw people from the Ivorian Red Cross come on stage to take him to hospital.
“Ten minutes later, I was told that he is in intensive care," recalled Mbuta. “I called 30 minutes later and Cornelie (one of his staff) told me that Papa Wemba had passed away.”
At 11:38 FEMUA organizers officially confirmed the death of the Congolese artist in a post on social media: "It is with deep sadness that the General Commission of FEMUA announces the death of the Congolese artist Papa Wemba, which occurred following a seizure on stage at the Urban Music Festival of Anoumabo on the night of 23 to 24 April 2016 ".
Wemba died following discomfort on stage, yet before the concert the singer looked very fit. His last message on his Facebook page reads: "We will be at Anoumabo tonight from 3am (Abidjan), televised live on RTI, and Korhogo tomorrow at 9pm (Abidjan). Good festivities to one and all!"
According Claudy Siar, host of Couleurs Tropicales (Tropical Colors) on Radio France Internationale (RFI), Papa Wemba had wanted to perform at the concert earlier, "But I told him that it is the prerogative of the biggest act to go on stage last. It is he who has to close the ceremony to inspire the youth," said Mr. Siar.
Tributes pour in
Still in shock, artists and other personalities from the DRC and around the world paid tribute to Congolese rumba star.
Senegalese artist Youssou N'Dour said in a brief message: "A great artist is gone. RIP to the prince of music.”
"A thought for our Papa Wemba - thank you for your voice and your songs your sympathy for this artistic legacy. Thank you for everything. RIP," said rapper Passi from Congo-Brazzaville.
Maurice Bandaman, the Ivorian Minister of Culture and Francophonie expressed his "solidarity to the African music family."
"I am shocked by the sudden disappearance of the great artist Jules Shungu Wembadio ‘Papa Wemba’," wrote Lambert Mende, the DRC’s Minister of Media.
"For me, it is with great sadness (I just heard the news) and simultaneously mixed with much anxiety, because I knew he was very weak. Let him play at a festival, but on top of that he goes on stage for hours at 5am, at his age. I think the organizers did the schedule wrong," said Felix Wazekwa, his lyricist.
Koffi Olomidé, another legendary artist of DR Congo, was full of regret, comparing Papa Wemba to other legends of Congolese music: “For me, the value of Congolese music is also effected. Tabu Ley is no more. Madilu is already dead, as is Pepe Kallé and Luambo Franco Makiadi. Today it’s Papa Wemba."
In Abidjan, the Ivorian capital, FEMUA’s organizers plan to hold a wake at the scene of the festival in Anoumabo, where artists from Ivory Coast will pay tribute to the Congolese musician. Nothing has been confirmed yet.
In Kinshasa, fans of the singer are anxiously awaiting the mortal remains of their star. No official program has been announced here yet either.
Jules Shungu Wembadio – better known as Papa Wemba – established himself as a central figure in Congolese music and an African icon during the course of his 50-year career. In 1977 he founded the orchestra Viva La Musica, after having made his debut in Zaïko Langa Langa, which he co- founded in 1969, as well as stints in Isifi Lokole then Yoka Lokole. With Zaïko he had several hit songs, including ‘Chouchouna’, ‘Pauline’, ‘Liwa ya Somo’ and ‘Amoureux déçu’ (disappointed lover). He will also be remembered for the song ‘Amazone’, the name of his wife, which helped establish the group Isifi Lokole.
After several albums with his group Viva La Musica, Papa Wemba found worldwide success with Real World, the label of Peter Gabriel with whom he released three albums: Le Voyageur (The Traveler) in 1992; Emotion in 1995, which sold 500 000 copies, and Molokai in 1999.
Papa Wemba is also regarded as a pioneer of the fashion movement known as La Sape. He has collaborated with leading musicians such as Manu Dibango, Ray Lema, Youssou N'Dour, Koffi Olomide and Lokua Kanza, who was the arranger of his album Emotions. We will also remember his starring role in the film La Vie est Belle (life is beautiful), released in 1997 and directed by Dieudonné Ngangura Mweze and Benoît Lamy.
His latest album Maître d’école (schoolmaster) was released in 2014 and dedicated to Congolese rumba.