Born and bred in Paris, Orphee Shungu, daughter of the world famous late Congolese Rhumba musician, Papa Wemba, studied Communications and Music, but a musician is definitely not on her list of potential husbands. She told Nseobong Okon-Ekong why
The hall became emotionally charged as soon as she mounted the stage with her mother. Their world famous bread-winner had passed on barely seven months. Honouring the memory of Jules Shungu Wembadio Pene Kikumba, better known as, Papa Wemba, the Congolese singer and musician was one of the highlights of the recent All Africa Music Awards, AFRIMA, in Lagos.
As the sound of his music wafted through the speakers and his brief bio rolled on the screen, all eyes were on his wife, Amazone, and his 24 year-old daughter, Orphee. It was a fitting tribute to the man reputed as the ‘King of Rhumba Rock’.
He was just ‘Daddy to her. To many around the world, he was a vastly adored idol who made them happy through his music. His immediate family may not have been aware of his larger than life stature until he died. Wemba, according to his daughter, had predicted he would die doing what he loved most – singing on stage and that only then would his family members realize how big he was.
It happened exactly as he had predicted.
On that fateful day in April in 2016, Wemba was performing in Abidjan, Cote D’Ivoire during the FEMUA Urban Music Festival when he collapsed and died. Orphee told this reporter she had spoken with her father 40 minutes earlier from her base in Paris to wish him well and promised to call again when he was done performing. Unfortunately, it would be the last time she heard his voice live. He now lives through his musical works and other forms of cultural influences which he had on his generation.
Wemba has entered the list of artistes whose wish to die on stage while performing came true. Orphee said he had dropped a hint on how he would love to go.
“He always said the beautiful gift to him would be to die on stage. I was not surprised he died on stage. It is a beautiful way to die. No suffering. He just died. I feel the pain of his death but I am comforted he did not suffer any pain and he died the way he wished.”
Understandably, Orphee does not like talking about the moment her father’s death was reported to the family. All his relatives have become more closely knit. Dealing with his death has made them stronger. Orphee even found her voice on stage, singing one of her father’s songs that has become her favourite since he passed. She explained why she loves that song. “It talks about the importance of family and reflects on the busy life of an artiste. He travels around the world alone. In that song, my father says family is the best and he talks about my mother as an inspiration to him and the children. I love that song. “
Born and bred in Paris, she only returned to live with her mother in Kinshasha, Democratic Republic of Congo, since he passed on. Although She’d been singing since she was a little girl and she believes very much music is in her blood, she is willing to bid her time until a producer who is willing to work with her comes along.
After weighing the options for some time, she deliberately choose a delicate response. “Yes I am a musician and no, I am not a musician. I am a musician because music is my passion. I don’t know if I want to be a musician. I studied Communications and Music. I just finished my studies of communication in the university in France, Marketing and Publicity. I don’t know if I want to be a musician like my father. If one day someone tells me I would like to produce you, why not?”
Boldly tattooed on her wrist were two symbols she offered to shed light on. “It is the first letter of my name ‘O’. The other tattoo is a motif for motivation in Latin. My parents are the reason, I do anything. They are my motivation. Especially, my Dad. When I want to make any move in my life, I think what my Dad think would do in a situation like that. He is my motivation every day.”
Orphee hopes to have more tattoos on her body in the future. She has not decided what part of her body would be adorned, but it will definitely be the letters of her parents’ names and her father’s signature.
Another thing that she has not decided on is the question of a life partner. For now, it is not her priority. All she wants is to get a good job in order to put to practice what she studied in the university. She may be undecided about a husband, but one thing she is sure about is that she would never consider marriage to a musician. Her father was well travelled and met a lot of women, yet remained married to her mother only.
Orphee was not surprised at her father’s fidelity. She described her mother as a strong woman. “He needed a woman like that.”
“The women say I love Papa Wemba. That is fine. These women know the artiste not the real man. My mother knows the real man. She was with him for over 40 years. I will not marry a musician. It is difficult. Everybody loves him. I can never marry a musician. My mother is a stronger woman.”
The man who would sweep Orphee off her feet is one who loves and respects her. “With men, it is ‘l always I love you baby’. Men are the same. Do you love because I am me or because I am Papa Wemba’s daughter? When I come here, it is not my priority to see the Nigerian men. It is to be in AFRIMA with my mother to receive an award in honour of my father.”
Having lived in Paris for the better part of her life, the last few months in Kinshasha have been very revealing. Orphee finds it a bit of a tough question to fathom which of the two cultures have influenced her more. “I was born in France. I am a French. I schooled there and I understand French culture. I live in Kinshahsha these past months. I try to be African.
I try to be an African woman more and more. I think my father gave me two big heritage – the song and the fashion. I love African fashion. When I walk on the streets of France people come to me. I love the fact that Africans are always together as a family no matter what happens. The family values are very important to me. The music is the important heritage my father left. But the interesting thing about him was that he was not just about the music, he was also a trend setter in fashion and painting. He had a lot of children and they are of different social classes.
My family wants to help children in Africa so we honoured his memory every time we do that. These past months I live in Africa. I didn’t know Africa really because I always lived in France. I have discovered a new thing every day about Africa and it is so beautiful. I am so proud of the African culture. There is a lot of love. A lot of colour and happiness.”
Papa Wemba became the unofficial leader of La Sape (Société des Ambianceurs et des Personnes d’Élégance, literally translated as the “Society of Atmosphere-setters and Elegant People”) which he promoted as a youth subculture in Zaire. Their style was influenced by the fashion centres of Paris and Milan.
Although, Orphee is undecided about commitment to marriage, he would have loved to have her father at her wedding. All she will live with now are fond memories like the nickname her father used to call her and the recall of a scenario at an older sister’s wedding where she went up against her father in a mock singing contest.
Orphee revealed a little known secret of her father. He did not like listening to his own music. She grew up listening to a lot of soul, RnB, jazz and rock music.
On the AFRIMA stage, the organisers made Diamond Platnumz, the Tanzanian superstar to render one of Wemba’s songs. This was particularly a thrilling surprise to Orphee. It was a confirmation that her father influenced all generations. Since he died many people now recognize her as Wemba’s daughter. She joked that it could be because she has a prominent nose like her father’s. “They say very sweet and kind words about him. They say how much they loved my father and how he helped everyone.”