Why Papa Wemba wanted to die on stage

Late Congolese musician Papa Wemba would not have wanted his life to end any other way – other than while performing on stage, says Voice of America (VOA).

The Rhumba maestro collapsed and died while performing in Abidjan, Ivory Coast early Sunday morning. The sad news left many of his fans worldwide in somber mood and in disbelief.

Now it emerges that Papa Wemba had fulfilled his wish of “death on stage”.

Papa Wemba had in past interviews told VOA’s Roger Muntu, a native of the Democratic Republic of Congo – who knew Papa Wemba personally –, that “he (Wemba) wanted his last day to be on stage.”

“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’,” Muntu told VOA, concluding: “his wish came true pretty much.”

King of Rhumba

Muntu also shed light on why Papa Wemba was fondly referred to as the King of Rhumba. He says the late musician learned from the best of Congolese artistes.

“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.”

Muntu adds that Papa Wemba was on top of his game because he identified what he loved most and committed to excellence; developing a unique personal style that effortlessly gave him an edge over other musicians.

“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.”

Humble Wemba

In his eulogy, Muntu said Papa Wemba led a humble life despite his fame and fortune.

“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 rhumba, as many artistes are continuing to pass on the art to newer generations.

Papa Wemba had many popular hits during his career. But of all the songs that he sang, Muntu said the one that resonates with many of his fans, is his song Mama.

“One of the best rhumba 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!”


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