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Rumba legend Papa Wemba

King of rumba Papa Wemba collapsed and died while performing at a concert in Abidjan

It is like a bad omen that 2016 has only started and we have already lost several music legends, from David Bowie to Prince and now our own African king of rumba: Papa Wemba.

Fans were shaken by the news of Papa Wemba's passing right after collapsing on stage during his last concert in Abidjan over the weekend. Turns out that this is exactly how he had wanted to die.

Quoted from other press, Salif Traore, a festival promoter and singer said: “Papa Wemba wanted to die on stage, that’s what he told me two weeks ago when I spoke to him on phone.”

In August 2014, Kenyans witnessed Papa Wemba's skill as he performed at the Koroga Festival in Nairobi. I was among few media who got a chance to directly interact with this legend before his concert. I remember my interview with him lasted about 10 minutes.

He was very proud of his yesteryears as the head of Congo’s le sapeur fashion and class movement. From across the room, looking at his fancy attire: a beige dungaree, a sailor striped shirt, and black hat with a navy blue scarf, it was clear that Wemba was a very stylish 64-year-old.

Another thing about him was his patience during the interview process. Even when there were technical issues that made him wait or restart his sentences afresh, he did it gracefully. As a matter of fact, his poise was notable. He was sitting on the high stool, crossing his legs, looking at his fingers and adjusting his hat and scarf, from time to time.

Papa Wemba was extremely proud of his influence in Congolese music and spoke highly of his collaborations with Lokua Kanza, and mentoring the careers of many, among them Koffi Olomide.

When he sang an acapella, it was so shocking how youthful his voice still sounded. That’s when I deduced that age really is nothing but a number. Unlike some superstars who get irritable when people crowd or request for pictures, Papa was also happy to take pictures with us right after the interview.

And his concert at Koroga was everything he had promised. He delivered a stellar performance backed by his Congolese band and set of female dancers, dressed for the occasion and salaciously shaking their waists—you can’t stop the Lingala movement!

Jules Shungu Wembadio Pene Kikumba, as he was officially known, will forever be remembered as one of the most important contributors in the genre of Rumba and Lingala music. Africa continues to mourn the loss of a great music icon. Rest in Peace Papa Wemba.