Thousands honour ‘rumba king’ Wemba at requiem mass in Kinshasa

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Rumba King funeral

Thousands of fans paid a final tearful tribute to Congolese “rumba king” Papa Wemba at a requiem mass in Kinshasa on Wednesday where his songs were played, before he is laid to rest.

Papa Wemba was a “worthy son of the DRC, the quality of his work has made him a citizen of the world”, the president of the national episcopal conference of Congo, Bishop Nicolas Djomo, said in a homily.

He was “a great artist who was able to speak to all social classes,” and “a man who did not live for himself but for others and for God.”

He conveyed “the message of love, the message of peace and of reconciliation”.

Papa Wemba collapsed while performing at a festival in Ivory Coast on April 24. The flamboyant musician, who led the Kinshasa music scene for four decades, died before reaching hospital. He was 66.

His body returned to his native Democratic Republic of Congo last week, and lay in state at the national parliament since Monday.

“For three days, like one man, the Congolese people”, Africa and the world “cried over the one they agreed to call the father of Congolese rumba,” said the archbishop of Kinshasa, Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo.

Six bishops, about 60 priests, family members, officials and celebrities were among about 2,000 people in the Notre Dame du Congo Cathedral for the mass in his honour.

About 10,000 more crammed into the streets outside, where giant screens were erected to watch the service.

Many young people were among those who sweated, many bare-chested, under Kinshasa’s brutal equatorial sun to hear the service.

Some had gathered since dawn on Wednesday to watch the funeral cortege arrive.

Before the service, Cardinal Monsengwo, Bishop Djomo, and other clerics, bowed before the coffin and before Papa Wemba’s tearful widow.

In his funeral oration, the governor of Kinshasa, Andre Kimbuta, honoured the memory “of the high priest of Congolese music”.

The oration was interspersed with excerpts of Papa Wemba’s songs, including “L’Esclave” which recounts the stories of African slaves taken to America, as many in the congregation responded with barely muffled sobs.

Congo’s President Joseph Kabila on Monday posthumously awarded Papa Wemba one of the country’s highest honours, making him a grand officer of the Order of National Heroes Kabila-Lumumba.

A father of six, Papa Wemba helped to pioneer a blend of Congolese popular music with electric rock during the 1980s, when an interest in world music stirred in Western countries.

He is due to be laid to rest in a cemetery on the outskirts of Kinshasa later on Wednesday.

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