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Papa Wemba, King of Congolese Rumba, Dies at Age 66

Congolese rumba music legend Papa Wemba gives his first concert in Kinshasa, June 26, 2004.
Congolese rumba music legend Papa Wemba gives his first concert in Kinshasa, June 26, 2004.

Papa Wemba, one of Africa's greatest musicians and known around the world as the king of Congolese rumba, died early Sunday after collapsing on stage at a music festival in the Ivory Coast, officials said. He was 66.

Papa Wemba had performed three songs at the Urban Musical Festival Anoumabo (FEMUA) in Abidjan before collapsing in front of thousands of fans, organizers said.

Fellow performers rushed to his aid, but he died before reaching the hospital, officials said.

The cause of death wasn't immediately known.

Culture Minister Baudouin Banza Mukalay confirmed the musician's death Sunday, calling it a "great loss for the country and all of Africa. ... He was a self-made man, a role model for Congolese youth."

FEMUA officials expressed "deep sorrow" at Wemba's death.


Born Jules Shungu Wembadio Pene Kikumba in June 1949 in what was then Belgian Congo, the singer has been at the forefront of African music for more than four decades. He rose to fame beginning in the late 1960s and 1970s in the Democratic Republic of Congo's capital, Kinshasa, with the band Zaiko Langa Langa. The band featured a guitar-based fusion of Latin and African dance styles.

Wemba had a trademark high-range voice. He began singing in religious choirs.

He had fans across Africa and Europe and worked with international stars including former Genesis singer Peter Gabriel, whom Wemba toured with in the 1990s and appears on Gabriel's Secret World Live album.

In 2004, he was convicted of smuggling Congolese immigrants into France, saying they were members of his band. However, Wemba received a suspended sentence, and was freed after three months in jail.

Some material for this report came from AP, AFP and Reuters.