Body of rumba king Papa Wemba returns to the Congo

2016-04-29 10:29

Kinshasa - The body of Congolese "rumba king" Papa Wemba arrived home in Kinshasa on Thursday, greeted by dignitaries, relatives and tens of thousands of distraught fans.

The legendary African music star died on Sunday at the age of 66 after collapsing on stage during a music festival in Ivory Coast.

His body was flown home after an all-night musical tribute in Ivory Coast to the flamboyant performer.

The white coffin draped in the Democratic Republic of Congo flag was received by Prime Minister Augustin Matata Ponyo before being taken off in a hearse on a four-hour journey across Kinshasa.

A funeral for the father of six will take place on Monday and he will be buried on Tuesday on the outskirts of the capital.

A human tide thronged the streets to see the passage of the coffin of the rumba king.

Youths accompanied the funeral procession on foot in the tropical heat while others hung from crowded buses provided by the authorities and organisers.

While some struggled with their grief over the sudden death of Papa Wemba, others sang in his honour.

"Papa Wemba was like a father to us and I saw him in that way. My heart is broken, confronting reality, seeing the coffin I realised that he is really gone," said a former backing dancer for Papa Wemba, Annia Matukutane.

"We will protect his legacy: a love of good music and dance. We will continue to do that elegantly," said Matukutane, who now works as a headteacher.

Relatives of the flamboyant performer were also at the airport, along with tribal chiefs and numerous admirers of the artist who was a stalwart of Africa's musical scene for more than 40 years.

'Musical icon'

"News of the death of Papa Wemba was an earthquake," Ivorian Culture Minister Maurice Kouakou Bandaman told reporters.

"Papa Wemba has entered a greater joy because for every stage artist, what a joy to die on stage."

Dozens of musicians took part in a tribute concert to Papa Wemba in Abidjan overnight that was billed as a "big artistic wake".

Members of Papa Wemba's music group dance and sing during a concert in tribute to him on April 27, 2016 at the Palace of Culture in Abidjan. (AFP)

Papa Wemba helped to pioneer a blend of Congolese rumba with Western electric rock as part of the world music explosion of the 1980s. Dance was an integral part of the nattily dressed performer's shows.

Papa Wemba was also known as the driving spirit behind a cult movement known as "Sapeurs" whose members - young men - spend huge amounts of money on designer clothes.

"We are sad to be coming to leave Papa Wemba out in the cold. He is a musical icon but also an icon of 'Sape' both in Congo and outside its borders, we will carry on his legacy," said Djef Lokadi, a fellow "Sapeur".

The widow of Papa Wemba stands in front of his poster during a concert in tribute to him on April 27, 2016 at the Palace of Culture in Abidjan. (AFP)

After working with other Kinshasa artists, Papa Wemba launched his own band Viva La Musica in 1977 and gained world renown when African music became popular in Europe and the United States in later years.

"I'm flummoxed. I don't know what's happening. All our great musicians are dying one after the other," said Delico Nzinga, a Kinshasa fan.

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