Sierra Nevada World Music Festival 1998

Papa Wemba and Molokai

From humble village beginnings in the interior of his vast, Central African homeland of Zaire, Shungu Wembadie moved to the capital city of Kinchauo when he was still a boy. There, the fledgling singer rose quickly to stardom in a series of ground breaking bands.

Papa Wemba, master guitarist and master of Soukous, intertwines his African musical roots with modern, international music styles--a wonderful pop blend of Afro-Cuban, American rock, and rhythm & blues, combined with his own traditional rhythms. Wemba has become an international ambassador of African pop music, playing at formal functions at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

Papa Wemba's future lies with his voice. Its reasonances reach deep inside, undoubtedly owing much to his mother, "a pleureuse" or professional mourner, who would cry and sing at funerals. Papa believes that he inherited his mother's way of singing, and that he would have become a griot or a jali had he stayed in the countryside, but instead he headed for the city and a life in the modern world. Nevertheless, Papa is a man linked to ancestor and to tradition and he will continue to sing in his first language, Lingala, rather than in French or English because it enables him to fully express the intensity of the lyrics and his emotions.

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