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Last Updated: Monday, 25 October, 2004, 11:47 GMT 12:47 UK
Wemba's world music fusion
Papa Wemba
Wemba became more well known outside Africa after he moved to Paris
Congolese singer Papa Wemba is appearing in court in France charged with aiding illegal immigration. BBC News Online profiles one of Africa's biggest music stars.

Papa Wemba, whose real name is Shungu Wembadio Pene Kikumba, was born in Kasai, Democratic Republic of Congo (then called Zaire) in 1949.

His father was customary chief in the region, a role which Wemba inherited.

His mother was a professional mourner who sang at funeral wakes and was a huge influence on her son.


With music in his blood, he headed to the city of Kinshasa and it was here he formed the band Zaiko Langa Langa in 1970, which went on to become hugely popular in DR Congo.

The band developed a modern twist on the traditional rumba, influenced by the arrival of rock'n'roll.

Zaiko Langa Langa soon came to be more than just a musical phenomenon, symbolising an irreverent new youth movement.

Papa Wemba
Papa Wemba sings in his native language, Lingala

In 1975, Papa Wemba left Za´ko and formed his own group, Isife Lokole and in 1976, he formed Papa Wemba's Viva La Musica.

His growing influence made traditional African instruments and costumes such as raffia skirts fashionable again after they had been dismissed by the urban elite as primitive.

Widening horizons

The clothes represented rebellion against political oppression during the 30-year rule of President Mobutu, who clamped down on criticism of his government.

Sometime later, Viva La Musica became famed for their uniform of baggy, pleated trousers, brogues, and cropped hair and fans followed suit.

A move to Paris in the early 1980s widened Papa Wemba's musical horizons and he began to experiment with new sounds, employing both European and African musicians.

It was the start of a dual musical personality for Papa Wemba - while it made his name in Europe and the US, his African fans were wary of the new sound.

Wemba continued to record with Viva La Musica but simultaneously created music with his crossover group.

One of his most cosmopolitan recordings was 1995's Emotion, created by Pet Shop Boys/Erasure producer Stephen Hague.

But Wemba continued to sing in the Lingala language, which went some way to quietening those who believe he has forgotten his African roots.

In 1996, Papa Wemba was pronounced best African Artist at the KORA, the first all-Africa Music Awards - an honour shared with Youssou N'Dour.

His most recent album, released this year, is titled Somo Trop.

The flamboyant king of rumba rock shows no signs of stopping, although his fate is now in the hands of the French courts.

France investigates Papa Wemba
20 Feb 03 |  Europe
Papa Wemba arrested in Belgium
17 Feb 04 |  Europe


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