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Papa Wemba's Death On Stage, A Wish Fulfilled

Papa Wemba, Ilo e Jamal

The legendary Congolese musician Papa Wemba’s sudden death, following a performance in Ivory Coast early Sunday morning, has left many of his fans around the world, aghast and in disbelief.

But, host of VOA’s RM Show, Roger Muntu, a native of the Democratic Republic of Congo, who knew Papa Wemba personally, said the musician, who collapsed while performing on stage and died en-route to the hospital, would not have wanted his life to end any other way, based on interviews he’d given on this issue.

“He said 'I want to die on stage, I want my last day to be on stage and they asked him why and he said because every time when I am on stage, when I am singing, I feel as if I am flying',” said Muntu, concluding, “his wish came true pretty much.”

Asked how he acquired the title of the King of Rumba Rock, Muntu said Papa Wemba learned from the best of Congolese musicians.


“He followed the steps of big rumba artists like Rochereau, Tabu Ley, who left us a few years ago, he followed the steps of other artists like Dr. Nico Grand Kalle, all of those people who were huge, they were big, in rumba.”

But Muntu, said what gave Papa Wemba the edge over other musicians his unique personal style.

“He added his own style to it, and by his style I want to add that he … he created (his) own style, the way you could dress, the way you walk, the way you talk to people so he added to it than just the music.”

Despite his fame and fortune, Muntu said another plus for Papa Wemba was his humble ways.

“As big as he was, he was a very, very humble man,” said Muntu. “As popular as he was, he was accessible to everybody, and I am talking about everybody, journalists, people on the streets, pretty much everybody.”

“He was really an awesome person,” Muntu added.

Muntu said Papa Wemba’s exit from the music scene, while a huge loss for the industry, does not mean the death of rumba, as many artists are continuing to carry the torch, thanks to Papa Wemba and other great artists, who’s passed on the tradition.

“He had trained so many … Kofi Olomide was one of his friends, one of his buddies, one of the younger brothers who also does great rumba, he trained so many other new artists like Fally Ipupa, Ferre Gola, all those people are pretty much, I can say it, students of this, disciples of this man Papa Wemba so rumba its going to continue to evolve, its not going to die, that’s for sure,” said Muntu.

“He also left his own band Viva La Musica, who’ll also continue on the same route.

Roger Muntu and Papa Wemba
Roger Muntu and Papa Wemba

Muntu, however, said one thing that won't be easily replaced, is Papa Wemba’s style.

“So rumba is still there, but the style, that lifestyle of an artist that we don’t know who’s going to continue that.”

Papa Wemba had many great hits during his career, that kept many on their feet at various clubs and venues. But of all the songs that Papa Wemba sang, Muntu said the one that resonates with many of his fans, is his song, ‘Mama.”

“One of the best rumba is the song he called mama, he wanted to thank his mother,” said Muntu. He said mom if I am this very popular man that the world is listening and watching and wanting to see its because of you, I wish I could just give up everything just to hug you, just to tell you thank you!”

VOA's Roger Muntu Reflects On The Life Of Papa Wemba
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