Papa Wemba was already a huge star in the Congo when I was just getting my feet wet in world music over twenty-five years ago. I first encountered Congolese popular music through the recordings of Tabu Ley Rochereau. The music was incredibly buoyant, reminding me a lot of the uplifting character of Haitian compas. I spent many an hour dancing alone in my apartment to that insanely happy beat called soukous. Papa Wemba’s name is likewise associated with soukous and Congolese rhumba, and he is a major force in his own right, cranking out hit after hit. As you will hear, his voice is sweetness itself, and if you are not already familiar with his music I suspect you will want to hear more.
Wemba was surely the headliner at this year’s WOMEX, and he did not disappoint. He and his band turned in a stellar set, getting the big auditorium pulsing with irresistible beats, infectious riffs and fluid guitar lines. It was a formidable reminder that Wemba is definitely open for business, and by the end of the set, just about everyone was up and dancing, and the African fans in the audience were blissed. I was dutifully busy videotaping and that doesn’t always allow for enjoyment, but when the song featured here came up, I thought to myself “Whoa. This is the sh-t.”
Here’s some background from the WOMEX guide: “His glittering career spans four decades of Congolese music history, in which he’s played a crucial role. Since his debut in 1969 as one of the founders of the influential Zaïko Langa Langa, who shook up the rhumba scene with their powerful new approach and set the scene for the soukous craze, he’s set trends.…now celebrating 40 years at the top.” And of course, just Google the name and you’ll have more info than you know what to do with.
My heartfelt thanks to Afropop Worldwide for sharing the excellent clean recording of the concert (which they in turn received from the BBC; thanks to them too!) without which I would never have posted the video.
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