Ivory Coast to host all-night tribute to rumba king Papa Wemba

2016-04-26 14:57

Abidjan - Ivory Coast will host an all-night concert tribute this week to Congolese rumba star Papa Wemba, who died after collapsing on stage during a festival in Abidjan, organisers said on Monday.

Family members led by the artist's widow Marie Rose, known as Maman Amazone, arrived in the Ivory Coast to prepare to repatriate Papa Wemba's body to his homeland, where Culture Minister Banza Makalay described his death as "a great loss for music".

Papa Wemba, one of the biggest names in African music for the past 40 years, died after falling ill on Sunday during a performance at the Urban Music Festival of Anoumabo (FEMUA).

He was 66.

The festival organisers said a "big artistic wake" would be held from Wednesday evening to dawn in a tribute to the larger than life musician known as the "king of Congolese rumba" who fused Cuban and African rhythms.

"More than 100 national and international singers and musicians will succeed each other on stage from 9 pm until dawn," FEMA said in a statement.

The cause of Papa Wemba's death is not yet known, although he was said to have suffered health problems for some years and a journalist reportedly noticed he was unwell on Sunday.

The team of six people who flew in Monday from the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo included the governor of Papa Wemba's native Sankuru region, Ulungu Lukatu Berthold, as well as family, a festival promoter told AFP.

'Voice of an angel'

The small delegation was due to make arrangements following the sudden death at a meeting also to be attended by the DRC's ambassador to Ivory Coast, who had cut short a trip to Mali, Ivorian musician and festival promoter Salif Traore, known as A'Salfo, told AFP.

A pioneer of the fusion of Cuban and electronic rock in the 1970s, Papa Wemba found world renown as African music grew in popularity in Europe and the United States the following decade, by way of events such as the WOMAD (World of Music, Arts and Dance) Festival founded by English rock musician Peter Gabriel.

His overseas audience grew after a world music album produced by France's Martin Meissonnier in 1988, which blended Western sounds with the rumba tradition also known as soukous.

Veteran Congolese singer Koffi Olomide said on Facebook that he was "weeping for a big brother," adding: "Congolese music has been decimated, it has exploded... I refuse to believe the news".

A'Salfo, also lead singer of the group Magic System, said on Sunday that the great musician - also known for his eccentric fashion - had told him two weeks ago he "wanted to die on stage".

Benin's Angelique Kidjo posted a music clip on Twitter: "Remembering #PapaWemba with our duet on Manu Dibango's 'Ami Oh'. He had a voice of an angel."

Video footage shown live on television showed the dramatic moment that Papa Wemba - wearing a bold black and white patterned tunic and an oversized bowler hat - slumped to the floor behind a group of dancers, before performers rushed to his aid.

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

The festival was the first major public event to be staged in Ivory Coast after an Islamist attack on the beach resort of Grand-Bassam on 13 March that left 19 people dead.

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