Hundreds of thousands of mourning fans came out on Wednesday to bid a final farewell to Papa Wemba, the legendary Congolese singer who brought his tumultuous country’s music to a world audience and became a national hero in the process.
Wemba, born Jules Shungu Wembadio Pene Kikumba in Lubefu in what was then the Belgian Congo, collapsed and died on stage while performing at a music festival in Ivory Coast on April 24. He was 67 years old.
A steady stream of mourners filed past his white and gold casket in the three days before Wednesday’s burial as he lay in state at Democratic Republic of Congo’s parliament building in the capital Kinshasa.
And a crowd of tens of thousands packed the streets in front of the Notre Dame du Congo Cathedral where the city’s Catholic archbishop celebrated a funeral mass on Wednesday.
“Papa Wemba has always been my idol. So I’ve just lost my star,” said JB Mpiana, the head of the popular Kinshasa musical group Wenge Musica.
Wemba came of age during the 1960s, a period of post-independence hope in Congo that was quickly dashed by civil war and the murder of Patrice Lumumba, the young nation’s first democratically elected leader.
It was also a period when Congo’s Cuban-influenced rumba ruled the airwaves across an African continent in the midst of an existential transformation.
Wemba would rise to become one of the genre’s masters before turbo-charging it in the 1970s with breakneck drum beats and frantic guitar riffs as part of the Congolese super group Zaïko Langa Langa.
He left after five years to found Viva la Musica, the band he would continue to perform with until his death despite periods of solo work and collaboration with other artists.
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