Jules Shungu Wembadio Pene Kikumba (14 June 1949 – 24 April 2016), known professionally as Papa Wemba, was a Congolese singer and musician who played Congolese rumba, soukous and ndombolo. Dubbed the “King of Rumba Rock”, he was one of the most popular musicians of his time in Africa and played an important role in world music. He was also a fashion icon who popularized the Sape look and style through his musical group Viva la Musica, with whom he performed on stages throughout the world.
Papa Wemba’s road to fame and prominence began when he joined the music group Zaiko Langa Langa in the late 1960s. This was followed by his success as a founding member both of Isifi Lokole and then Yoka Lokole, along with a short stint as a member of Afrisa International for a few months. During these early stages of his career, he was establishing a style that included traditional Congolese rumba and soukous, infused with traditional African sounds, Caribbean rhythms, rock and soul. But Wemba gained international success and status with his band Viva La Musica, especially after he took them to Paris, France in the early 1980s. It was there that Wemba was able to achieve more of an “eclectic sound” in his work, influenced by western popular music that reflected a European flavor and style, referred to as “Europop.” Wemba spoke about this transition in his music during a 2004 interview:
“When I started singing pop music, I left religious music completely. But there was always the influence of religious music on my voice because, with religious music, the minor key always recurs. When I compose songs, I often use the minor key”.