|Performer, musician, band:
|Original CD year:
||Label: Realworld. BelaRues Collection
01. Maria Valencia
02. Lingo Lingo
03. Le Voyageur
05. Jamais Kolonga
1953 - CONGO, DEM. REP.
Alias: Shungu Wembadia
Member of: Molokai Viva la Musica
Genre: Soukous Ndombolo
Instrument: Male vocals
Papa Wemba began his musical career with the well-known soukous band, Zaiko Langa Langa. ZLL was a loose collection of musicians, up to 20 men in strength, that modernised soukous early in the 1970s. They removed the brass section, left over from the Cuban influence of the 1940s. In its place they inserted the guitar, while driving up the tempo of the music. In 1974 Papa Wemba formed his own band, Isife Lokole, that in 1976 became Viva La Musica. Papa Wemba's most important musical influences are, according to him, Cuban music and Otis Redding. His music is characterised by playful guitar, throbbing drums and good voices. He leans toward the same style as Koffi Olomide and has stood out as much as a creator of fashion style - a so-called sapeur.(le sape = style/fashion.) This style movement from Kinshasa adopted elements of the past century's dandyism and the English 1960s mod-style. Kinshasa's sapeurs were in many respects the opposites of the hippies, and behind this reverse orientation sat the designers, Giorgio Armani, Jean Paul Gaultier and the Japanese Yohiji Yamamoto. Since 1986 Papa Wemba has toured much in Japan and allowed himself to be affected by Japanese styles.
Papa Wemba now lives in Paris and insists on playing dance music, the style of which is easy, airy and captivating. Since 1996 he has performed with his Euro-African band, Molokai - also the name of his 1998 CD. "Molokai" is a name that belongs to Papa Wemba's own musical mythology: in his childhood he saw a film that white missionaries from his neighbourhood screened in what was formerly known as Leopoldville (now Kinshasa). The film showed how the missionaries cured the population of the Pacific island of Molokai of leprosy. This has such a strong impact on people that they named his neighbourhood Molokai. Since starting his musical life Papa Wemba has used the idea in his songs. This method of bringing in his own "mythology" into the music is typical of Congo?s soukous artists no matter if the music is known as either kwassa kwassa, tcha-tcho or matchatcha.
Kanda Bongo Man
The title of this disk plays on the fact that Papa Wemba, during recording, was emotional and anxious about the new set-up working. Papa Wemba set the tone of the development of his own soukous-based music, arranging it for the international market. There should have been no grounds for such anxiety: after 25 years as an artist, Papa Wemba knew exactly what he wanted and what he did with "Emotion" shows he made the right choices. Papa Wemba has several bands and, with his Europe-orientated concepts, wishes to conquer the West. He hired Stephen Hague (from, among other groups, Pet Shop Boys) as producer, and Jean Phillipe Rykiel on keyboard, and presents a western orientated sound with just a hint of Africa. There is much good stuff here; Papa Wemba's voice grabs you, and the music flies easily and lightly without sounding superfluous. His old friend, Lokua Kanza, is the composer and guitarist on several songs which are short and captivating in the best western pop-style. A nice detail is Otis Redding's old hit, "Fa Fa Fa Fa (Sad Song)", sung in Lingala as an enjoyable duet with Juliet Roberts. But perhaps this is a little too ingratiating and sweet in the long run.
The disk is a mixture of older songs with updated arrangements, and completely new pieces. Papa Wemba's light voice, that reminds me of Kanda Bongo Man's, but is sharper around the edges, flies across the music like his own instrument. The music is soukous-based but is different from much of the singer's other material. There is not a trace of sebene here. Papa Wemba develops the style in his own way - touched by western influences. The arrangements are elegant, with western pop-orientations, African drums, synthesizer, piano, and whiplash guitar riffs in a dynamic mix. At the same time the Cuban effect is also directly heard here. One of the best tracks on "Molokai" is the salsa song "Epelo". Had I not known for sure that this was Papa Wemba, I would have sworn it was Cuban. Otherwise the music flows like honey, hugely well composed and sweet. This is, incidentally, a little bittersweet, too. On the album's last track, "Esclave", sung gently as a song about love and with a seductive piano in the background, is about the Africans who have been slaves for centuries: "Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Maria Theresa, release me, son of Africa."
The album is varied, but on the whole rather pop-like and cloying. However, I am
in a relaxed mood today and willing to be convinced by Papa Wemba's playfulness.
This is a far more "African" album than the Realworld releases of the 1990s. It's clear that Papa Wemba wants to stay abreast of the times, as he has allowed himself to be affected by the ndombolo style within The Congo's music. Papa Wemba follows the recipe with large choral arrangements amd ensuing seben, if in a less synthetic version than the Congolese king of the synthesiser, Koffi Olomide. This is especially true on the first two tracks, ?Fula-Ngenge? and Hbu-Pia?, and here much of Papa Wemba?s great force, his glass-clear voice, is drowned out. But then the old fox brings in acoustic instruments such as trombone, saxophone and violin, and the album changes character. The more traditional soukous is replaced by melodious and poetic songs, where Papa Wemba sings from deep in his heart. This is inventive and catchy; on ?Maria? he brings in the sovereign theme from Ravel?s ?Bolero? for example, and on ?O?koningana? he introduces a rap/soul theme in a song that can bring the house down. On the song ?Etaleli? the trumpet solo becomes a duet with the solo, frisky and jazzy guitar. To sum up, "Mzee Fula-Ngenge" may sound a little untidy on first hearing, but after a while you discover its richness and beautiful details. It's an album you can play all the way through - again and again. Simply great. The competition sharpens in Paris.
BAKALA DIA KUBA
Many African artists have a solid recorded musical production, and the record companies follow up with Best-of compilations and historical throughfares of the discography. The quality varies; however, this double CD with tracks from Papa Wemba's first 20 years as a recording artist, in the years 1977-97, feels very welcome. The record is compiled by Vincent Luttman and Robert Urbanus, the first obviously a good friend of Papa Wemba. Solid research has been done here, this is no cheap "Very Best of" CD, but a real passage through Papa Wemba's musical development from the mid 1970s until the album "Nouvelle Ecriture" from 1997.
CD 1 starts with the track "Mere superieure" from the album "La Naissance de l'orchestre Viva la Musica", from 1977. The song became Papa Wemba's first hit and was appointed best song of the year by the newspaper "Elima" in Kinshasa. The soukous of the 70s sounds pretty shaky compared to the slick dance music of today, but there is much very fine guitar playing here. CD 1 consists of 8 tracks, all of them long, and by the same caliber as the opening track. This is not as up tempo as one perhaps should believe, with Papa Wemba's background from Zaiko Langa Langa. CD 1's best song is "Matebu", in fact rather jazzy and pretty laidback, recorded in Paris on one of his earlier visits in the city in 1982, financially supported by Franco himself. It sounds a little rattling, as mentioned, but CD 1 makes a fine history book, and if you have heard these recordings on cracky singles, from which 3 of these songs originates, this record will be a gold mine. And with recordings made with Pepe Kall?, Wendo Kolosoy, Josky Kiambukuta and Emeneya, this is a solid dokumentation on Papa Wemba's central position in Congolese popular music, if some one should be in doubt.
However, it is on CD 2 that this really lets loose. CD 2 opens with the powerful "Malimba", created in cooperation with the Belgian composer Hector Zazou, also complied from a single, a 12 inch from 1984. The song must have been ahead of its time, it didn't really make in the 1980s, but this is a real killer, with a classy brass arrangement und heavy force. Here is also Papa Wemba's monomental "Esclave", in its original version from 1986, 9 minutes long. Great. The local tribal music is never far away in Africa. Papa Wemba belongs to the Tetela people. A tremendous call and response song, "M'balumuna", from the sound track album "La Vie est belle" is also added on "Mwana Molokai". Papa Wemba played the lead role in this feature film from 1985. His fine cooperation with Koffi Olomid? on "Wake up" from 1996 must also be mentioned, a nice tune in Koffi Olomid?'s syntbased style, but here also with Papa Wemba's clear voice as a bonus. It is by the way interesting to follow the development of this voice, that in my opinoin only becomes more sonorous as the years pass by.
To sum up I should think that CD 2 will be played more often than CD 1 in this house, but this is totally an elegant collection of music by one of Africa's leading musicians. CD 2 is a non stop pleasure; varied, spiritual and captivating.