Papa Wemba in his Own Words

Papa Wemba
Papa Wemba

Papa Wemba was not only a star, a musician, and artist, but he was also a father, a husband, and a son. He had been married to his wife, Marie-Rose ‘Amazone’ Luzolo, for almost 50 years; they had met when he was 20, and she was 14. They had 6 children. In this world, very few celebrities have been married to only one person for almost 50 years.

Here are a few words of Papa Wemba, le rossignol (the nightingale), the King of Rumba and SAPE.

About his mother who was a professional ‘wailing woman’: “My mother was my first teacher and my first public. … I grew up with my mother’s melancholic singing. … When I will sing, she will saymy son, block here, and now project your voice“… when I did well, she will clap for me“(source: Tv5 – Africanité). For his mother, he composed Mama and Maria Valencia.

Papa Wemba11
Papa Wemba’s last album ‘Maitre d’Ecole’

His daughter, Victoire, said that after Papa Wemba was convicted by the Belgian justice, “Dad prayed a lot. Dad was a champion, and he was victorious“(source: TV5 – Africanité).

About his wife, he said: “For my first trip to Japan, I said I will never go alone… my first long trip,… 13h long…, I brought my tender spouse and one of my children to experience it with me” (source: RFI- Dernière interview avec Claudy Siar). For his wife, he sang 4 min 29 secondes d’adoration, Phrase, and Ma Rosa.

He was a compassionate being: during one of his concert, he asked the audience for one minute of silence for one of his band members, Patrick Bebey, who had lost his father the week before (source: TV5- Edition spéciale – Hommage Papa Wemba).

Papa Wemba3
Papa Wemba’s album ‘Emotion’

He was a generous soul: a neighbor in Matonge said: « Je me souviens qu’une fois, je l’ai juste salué en passant. Il m’a rétorqué. Albert pourquoi tu fais le pied. Je lui ai expliqué que mon véhicule était tombé en panne. Il m’a donné à l’instant même l’argent que j’avais besoin pour réparer ma voiture. » “I remember that one time, I just greeted him [Papa Wemba] in passing. He asked me. Albert, why are you walking. I told him that my car was broken. Instantly, he gave me to money to fix my car.” (source: Radio Okapi).

Papa Wemba was known for his legendary humility: «  A l’annonce d’un cas de décès à Matonge et surtout dans notre avenue ici Kandakanda, il s’arrangeait toujours pour envoyer sa contribution lorsqu’il n’était pas au pays. Dans les cas où le décès intervenait et qu’il se trouvait sur place à Kinshasa, il venait personnellement conduire la quête pour soutenir la famille éprouvée. Bien sûr, sa contribution était toujours largement au-dessus par rapport à ce que nous autres pouvions bien volontiers donner » témoigne Francine, une voisine de Papa Wemba à Matonge. “At the announce of a death in Matonge, and particularly on our avenue here in Kandakanda, he always made sure to send in his contribution when he was outside the country. When the announcement happened and he was in Kinshasa, he personally came to lead the quest for people’s contribution to support the bereaved family. Of course, his contribution was way bigger than anything we could gladly contribute” (source: Radio Okapi).

Papa Wemba9I was lucky to cross all the oceans with my voice.” … “I was lucky to belong to a country with a musical genre such as Rumba.”

Papa Wemba defined Rumba as “the maternity of the African music” (source: TV5 – Africanité).

He said: “I am Rumba, it is thanks to Rumba that I have made a name for myself in the world” (source: TV5 – Africanité, RFI- Dernière interview avec Claudy Siar).

About la SAPE and his influence around the world: “Today even great politicians sapent (are dandy)… Before Mr. Obama steps out, he first takes a look in his mirror to make sure that he looks good… La SAPE is international“(source: TV5 – Africanité).

About SAPE: “La vie est trop courte pour s’habiller triste. [Life is too short to dress sadly]” (source: Oeil d’Afrique).

Papa Wemba6About leading: “Il ne faut pas tenir la queue, il faut être devant le peloton.” [Don’t be at the back of the queue, You must lead the pack.] (source: RFI- Dernière interview avec Claudy Siar).

About retirement: “Moi, Papa Wemba, N-O-N, jamais je ne parlerais de retraite. A moins que le Bon Dieu lui-même ne me dise ‘ta voix n’y est plus’… Tant que je serais un homme debout, tant j’aurais toujours ma belle voix, je serais toujours sur scène.” [I, Papa Wemba, N-O, I will never talk of retirement. Unless God says ‘your voice is no longer there’… as long as I will still stand, as long as I still have my beautiful voice, I will always be on stage.](source: RFI- Dernière interview avec Claudy Siar).

And lastly about his gift, his voice, and God: “My voice is my gift. … I have the grace of God, God loves me very much, and He always puts His hand on me” (source: RFI- Dernière interview avec Claudy Siar).

Happy 2015!


Precious readers, may the year 2015 be the year of all great conquests, achievements, success, and greatness. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to all those who visited my blog, and to all future visitors. 2014 was a beautiful year: the number of subscribers on has tripled, the number of visitors on the blog has doubled, the article Burkina Faso was cited by TIME Magazine online, while the article La SAPE was cited by The Guardian, and many articles were reblogged on multiple sites. For 2015, I wish you wonders without borders, peace, grace, and love.

Happy 2015 (Illustration by Osee Tueam, for Dr. Y,
Happy 2015 (Illustration by Osee Tueam, for Dr. Y,

Here were the top posts of 2014. Keep trusting, reading, sharing, and liking.

1. Samori Toure: African leader and Resistant to French Imperialism
2. ‘Love Poem for My Country’ by Sandile Dikeni
3. ‘My Name’ by Magoleng wa Selepe
4. ‘Femme Noire/Black Woman’ by Leopold Sedar Senghor
5. The Ishango Bone: Craddle of Ancient Mathematics

La SAPE: Societe des Ambianceurs et Personnes Elegantes

A Sapeur in Brazzaville, Congo
A Sapeur in Brazzaville, Congo

La sape” (pronounced sap) is La Societe des Ambianceurs et Personnes Elegantes, or the Society of Atmosphere Setters and Elegant People.  The ‘Sapeurs’ adhere to a culture of high fashion at all costs.  Most are very well-dressed men who strut in Versace, Gucci, Prada, or Ralph Lauren’s attires.  They pay extreme attention to the quality or their clothing, and are extremely refined.  The word sapeur comes from two Lari words “Lunkété” and “tsi Muntu” or ‘beauty’ and ‘human.’  A true sapeur is one who symbolizes beauty and humanity through the clothes he wears, in his outlook, his words, and his actions.  In other words, he is someone who embodies and expresses the beauty of the mind and soul in harmony with the colors of his wardrobe, expresses love for his neighbor (luzolo), and is an apostle of peace.

Papa Wemba
Papa Wemba

The roots of the movement can be traced as far back as in the 1920s and 1930s when the first privileged Congolese returned from France with wardrobes of expensive suits. However the culture, and its name ‘la societe des ambianceurs et personnes elegantes’ took off thanks to the great musician and singer Papa Wemba who developed a flamboyant and sometimes exaggerated style.  His style was in direct opposition to Mobutu-approved uniform, the dreaded style-less ‘abacost’ (from the French “a bas le costume” or “down with the suit”) a dull Zairean version of the three-piece suit.  Papa Wemba called his new style Ungaru, and it was a throwback to the elegance of the 1930s—complete with tapered trousers, brogues, neatly trimmed hair and tweed hats worn at a rakish angle.  For Congolese all over the world, the look was irresistible:  SAPE was born.  Sape became almost like a religion: fashion at all cost, elegance, and setting the atmosphere, creating the spectacle.  Elegance at all costs is its motto. In the old days, sapeurs would often spend months or years saving up for outfits; they would start out by renting or borrowing suits from their more established peers.  Like in any movement, there are rivalries and affiliations within the SAPE movement: Paris vs Brussels, Brazzaville vs Kinshasa, Bacongo vs Moungali. It is a total fashion warfare. Sapeurs from Brazzaville follow the three colors rule, while the Kinshasa crowd is all about going overboard.

A flamboyant sapeur
Hector Mediavilla, a flamboyant sapeur

One important trait of the ‘sapeur’ is uniqueness: one cannot look like the common man, and so there is a constant urge to look different, unique, and elegant.  And the cost of the ‘sape’ is quite high… but very important.  Isn’t a person unique anyways? then why not exert that uniqueness in fashion?  There used to be weekly defilés (shows/catwalks) of sapeurs in the streets of Kinshasa or Brazzaville, to find and elect the most ‘sapé‘ man.  These were known as “Fight days”, weekly events, and the combat arenas were the local outdoor bars on Avenue Matsoua, the most famous place of Brazzaville, Congo.  Today, the sape culture has extended throughout Africa, and particularly French Africa.  In the video below, you will see how sape is redefined in Cameroon, a neighbor to Congo… and how there is a difference between being ‘hip‘ and being ‘sapé‘.  ‘Hip‘ is just having the latest trends: the pants down on the floor, the pierced jeans, etc… while ‘sapé‘ means having elegance, class, and uniqueness…. Enjoy!

To learn more about the history of SAPE, check out, LaSape.comLes sapeurs: gentlemen of Congo and this really good article on