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Why Papa Wemba’s Legacy Will Outlive Us All

There is a scene in the classic 1987 French-Congolese film La Vie Est Belle, where a character played by the legendary musician Papa Wemba is mistaken for dead after a heartbreak-induced suicide attempt. After eventually being resuscitated, he’s thrown into the trunk of a car and driven to a nightclub where his band is performing for a live broadcast without their lead vocalist. Still dazed, he stumbles onto the stage, mic in hand, wearing a shimmering sequined black overcoat. He sings out—hesitantly at first—in his famed velvet falsetto and the show goes on. All ends well and the credits roll over a jubilant dancing crowd. Fin.

Last weekend, when news of the real Papa Wemba’s death began to circulate on the internet, many of his fans were in denial. On April 24, 2016, Papa Wemba—born Jules Shungu Wembadio Pene Kikumba—had collapsed on stage while performing at a large music festival in Abidjan, Cote D’Ivoire.

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