On the occasion of the death of the iconic Congolese artist Papa Wemba in Abidjan on 24 April, we have selected a playlist of five of our favourite Wemba. They convey a history we cannot forget, linked to specific social contexts from the time of their release, and offer memories that will forever remain in the memory of a generation of African music lovers.
'La vie est Belle' - from the soundtrack of the movie La Vie est Belle (1987)
Many children of the 1980s and 90s in Central Africa and Francophone West Africa will remember the musical La Vie est Belle (Life is Beautiful). Many would have heard Papa Wemba for the first time in this film, even though he already had a successful career behind him by 1987. Wemba composed much of the original music for the film. At the time, the success of this production was such that the story and its protagonists became part of the everyday life and language of young people: girls were often jokingly 'Appellees Kabibi' and young men 'Kourou', referring to characters in the movie. Note also that the main message of the song concerns resourcefulness and refers to Article 15 ("You have to work for a living"), a line in the constitution during the 70s and 80s.
'Maria Valencia' - from the album Le Voyageur (1992)
'Maria Valencia', from Papa Wemba's 1992 album Le Voyageur (The Traveler), is the story of a young man in love who praises his sweetheart: "Esekeli na yo maria valencia eh eh eh, esekeli na yo Maria Valencia aaahh", which means, "The way you laugh and walk, Maria Valencia..." At the time the Senegalese national broadcaster RTS played the music video often, so this title is well-known in Senegal. Following Wemba's recent death, one Senegalese fan recalled: "With the announcement of the terrible news of his death, I do not know why the chorus of this magnificent song came back to me and suddenly resonated in my head all day. But I have not been very sad for long, because I know that a great artist never dies; he continues to live through his music."
'Wake Up' - from the album Wake Up (1996)
Released in 1996, 'Wake Up' is the title track of Wemba's collaborative album with Koffi Olomide, who began his musical career in Wemba's group Viva La Musica. This collaboration came at a time when the two Congolese stars were portrayed as rivals, with Papa Wemba representing the old guard and Koffi Olomide seen as the new rising star of Congolese music. The track was a massive hit, played in all the clubs, on radio or at other celebrations.
'Phrase' - from the album Fula Ngenge (1999)
The song 'Phrase', from the 1999 album Fula Ngenge, is dedicated to the singer's wife Marie Rose Luzolo, better known as Amazon. He recalls the time spent with her: moments of happiness, joy and hardship. They talk about their children and grandchildren: for example, "Bana baboteli biso bakoko, bango nd tala tala na biso", which means "Our kids gave us little kids, they are our mirror." The artist calls on his dear wife that they remain together, united despite their difficulties.
'Sapologie' - from the album Notre Père Rumba (2009)
Besides his talent in music, Papa Wemba always radiated energy and charisma on stage and during his various media appearances by wearing stylish outfits from top designers. A key member of the of the SAPE movement (Société des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Élégantes, or the Society of Ambiance-Makers and Elegant People), his 2009 track 'Sapologie' is something of a tribute to his love for fashion. The song features young Ivorian artist Nash, as if to show the passing of the torch of elegance to a younger generation. Since Papa Wemba's death, several sapeurs and sapeuses have expressed their sadness in the media, wondering who will succeed the artist who was so central to their movement.
Watch our earlier video playlists by clicking on the links below: