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Iconic Congolese Soukous Pioneer Papa Wemba Dies at Festival in Cote D’ivoire

One of the African continent’s biggest and brightest music stars has passed away over the weekend, after suffering an apparent seizure on stage at the Urban Music Festival in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. He died on the way to hospital.

Wemba was probably best known for his signature blend of the Congolese take on the rumba style with Cuban and Western influence, which became the heavily influential genre of Soukous. His innovation and widespread fame earned him the nickname of “King of Rhumba Rock.” He gained fame in Kinshasa, DRC, with his band Zaiko Langa Langa, before moving to Paris to spread the gospel of his signature sound with new band Viva La Musica. He toured with British rocker Peter Gabriel in the 90s.

He was also the leader of the famed ‘Sapeurs’, who are a social movement dedicated to gentlemanly grooming and were characterised by the showmanship of dressing sharply in their Sunday Best, every single day. Closer to home in the South, his film ‘La Vie Est Belle’ is credited with informing the title of South African-Congolese musician Petite Noir’s debut album. Petite Noir shared this tribute on his Instagram on Sunday:

What a tragedy! La Vie Est Belle Forever! R.I.P Papa Wemba

A photo posted by Petite Noir (@petitenoirkvlt) on

Tributes from DRC’s president Kabila and countless other musicians and audience members alike have been pouring out. It seems to have been a weekend of massive losses of musical icons, including the inimitable Prince and ‘Me and Mrs. Jones’ star Billy Paul.

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