Papa Wemba

Papa Wemba - Emotion


Papa Wemba was the undisputed King of Congolese Rumba Rock; a flamboyant and outspoken musician who took his soukous rhythms from the streets of Kinshasa to the world.

By the time he recorded Emotion, his second album for Real World Records, the Congolese band-leading legend had made somewhere in the region of 25 records.

This 1995 album marked something of a departure. Rather than being another instalment of his trademark high-octane soukous, Emotion was an unashamed offering to the same international audience taking the likes of Youssou N’Dour and Baaba Maal to its hearts. Indeed, there’s even a cover of Otis Redding‘s Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa (Sad Song). These are irresistibly crystal-clear melodies wrapped in the crispest, most modern production.

Originally released in 1995.

Available on vinyl for the first time – 180g black vinyl, with digital download card.

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Papa Wemba - Emotion


Side A

01 Yolele
02 Mandola
03 Show Me The Way
04 Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa (Sad Song)
05 Rail On
06 Shofele

Side B

01 Image
02 Sala Keba (Be Careful)
03 Awa Y’ Okeyi (If You Go Away)
04 Epelo
05 Ah Ouais (Oh Yes)


Papa Wemba: vocals
The Musicians: Andy Duncan: percussion & drums; Anne Papiri: backing vocals; Christian Polloni: keyboards & backing vocals; Jean-Philippe Rykiel: keyboards; Julia Sarr: backing vocals; The Kick Horns: horns; Lokua Kanza: guitars  & backing vocals; Maika Munan: guitars, keyboards & backing vocals; Maurice Poto: guitars, keyboards & backing vocals; Noël Ekwabi: bass; Xavier Jouvelet: percussion; Stephen Hague: accordion. ‘Sad Song’ Juliet Roberts: guest vocal; ‘Show Me The Way’ Lokua Kanza: percussion & bass; Paco Sery: drums; Udoh Essieh: percussion.

Produced by Stephen Hague
Additional production and arrangements: Lokua Kanza
Programming: Stephen Hague
Engineered by Ben Findlay and Sam Hardaker at Real World & Rak, Alex Firla at Guillaume Tell, Stan Loubiere at Rak
Assistant engineers: Maebh Flynn at Real World, Henry Binns and Graeme Stewart at Rak
Recorded at Real World Studios, Box, England and Guillaume Tell Studios, Paris
Mixed at Rak Studios, London, by Stephen Hague; ‘Sad Song’ mixed by Stephen Hague and Mike ‘Spike’ Drake

A Real World Design

Photography: Steve Pyke
Sleeve Notes by Paul Bradshaw

All tracks published by Filament Music Publishers except ‘Sad Song’ published by Warner Chappell Music Ltd

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Liner Notes

In the autumn of ’94 Paris-based Zairois, Papa Wemba, was deep in the recording of this album, Emotion, at Real World Studios. “Making this record gave me the shivers“, declared Papa. “When I arrived in Paris to live and work, and aim my music at the international market, I remember Martin Messonier saying, ‘if your first album fails, if your second album fails… you’d better make sure the third one is a success!’ It’s not that I’m afraid to sing – I’ve been singing for 25 years – but on this LP I’ve taken a totally different musical direction, so I’m a little afraid of the public’s reaction. This is an emotional time, that’s why I must call this album ‘Emotion’.”

Papa Wemba is clearly on a mission. He is building on the legacy of his innovative 1988 album Papa Wemba, which was recorded in collaboration with producer Martin Messonier, and the aptly titled Le Voyageur album, which was released in Europe on Real World in ’92. For Papa the real agenda lies in the dream of worldwide notoriety. To reach that international audience, artists like Papa Wemba must be willing to risk alienating the purists.

“My original group is there for my Zairean fans who come to hear typical African sounds,” says Papa, “but when I decided to be a singer with an international name, I formed another group to appeal to a different public. I have never mixed the two since both of them represent different aspects of my musical personality. I believe they should remain separate because I am a singer who can follow more than one path. This is the third album in my adventure and it’s very special to me.”

On Emotion Papa has renewed a working relationship with the acclaimed singer/songwriter Pascal Lokua Kanza. Papa explains; “Pascal’s very talented. He was originally asked to work on the backing vocals and arrangements in general, however, he has become more of an advisor and guide for my singing parts. He has been a great help to me because he is also a singer and we share the same mother tongue”. Papa has also hired keyboard player Jean Paul Rykiel, who played on Salif Keita’s Soro LP and more recently, Youssou N’Dour’s Wommat. Rykiel had contacted Papa after hearing Le Voyageur and was a natural choice to collaborate on this album: “I thought of him immediately… he’s a genius.” Papa performs here without his usual backing vocalists Reddy Amisi and Stino – the harmonies are dealt with by two scintillating female vocalists. He has also recorded a cover of Sad Song by Otis Redding, his favorite American singer, as a duet with soul diva Juliet Roberts.

The most fascinating decision is the appointment of producer Stephen Hague. Renowned for his work with Pet Shop Boys, Erasure and New Order, he has never worked with an African artists before and it was clear as we spoke that Papa was joyous at the results. On this LP, Papa Wemba’s voice is heard as it has never been heard before; “I think Stephen understood from the beginning what I hoped to achieve with this album. He felt that the vocals were the most important part of each song and arranged the backing tracks in ways that would work best for my singing styles. Stephen, Pascal and I worked very hard on the vocals and took the time we needed to get the very best performances”.

Papa Wemba’s future lies with this voice. It’s resonances reach deep inside, undoubtedly owing much to his mother – “a pleureuse”, or professional mourner, who would cry and sing at funerals. Papa believes he inherited his mother’s way of singing, and believes he would have become a griot or a jali had he stayed in the countryside, but instead he headed for the city and a life in the modern world. Nevertheless, Papa is a man linked to ancestors and to tradition and he will continue to sing in his first language, Lingala, rather than in French or English because it enables him to fully express the intensity of the lyrics and his emotions. He grins and admits, however, that on this LP he drops a few verses in English, “just to wink at the international market I’m aiming at.”

Papa’s musical roots were set down in 1969 when he and a posse of his contemporaries formed the group Zaiko Langa Langa. Like the youth in the rest of the world they were anxious for change and Zairean music experienced a total revolution. “We had been influenced by a lot of things – Afro-Cuban music, rock, rhythm and blues from the States, plus our own traditional rhythms. After 1960, when Zaire became independent, things changed. The period of President Mobuto’s L’Authenticité helped us a lot musically because we went back to traditional music. On the radio there was no longer any foreign music. You couldn’t listen to foreign music unless you bought a record or heard it in a night club.”

“Our heads were full, full, full of ideas. Our new direction evolved. We rejected wind instruments. We decided not to have just one lead singer. We wanted a group of singers – 2,3,4,5 or even 6 singers, all singing at the same time with different animations and harmonies. Also, through the Zairean students studying in Belgium, when it was the Congo, they introduced electric instruments and the drum kit into the music. We were criticised by our elders because we didn’t follow the rules, we upset them ’cause we did our own thing. It was rebellious, like pop music here, it was rebellion.”

In 1977 he formed his own band Viva La Musica, so-named after a Johnny Pacheco charanga track. In the words of Papa it was the dawn of another revolution. “I introduced a traditional instrument, the lokolé, into the music. Lokolé is a hollow tree trunk which you hit with two sticks, an instrument used like a cordless phone to communicate between the villages. I brought a new language into the music, a new way to express ourselves.”

Ironically one of the most of the significant decisions Papa Wemba made when initiating this group was not to do with the music but with style: “I decided to focus on the clothes – to be very well dressed”. It was Papa Wemba who introduced the phenomenon of La Société des Ambienceurs et des Personnes d’Elegance (La Sape) and the youth of Zaire at home and abroad followed – “It gave us an identity.”

“Today, when the press speaks about Papa Wemba, it’s always La Sape. I don’t want to dissociate myself from that because it’s a look, a style, that I’ve created myself. I have an image, I maintain that I like to dress well, to be chic. But that doesn’t mean I am a victim de la mode. No, no, no, I am not a slave of fashion, I am first and foremost a singer, not a ‘sapeur’.”

It also gave them an opening. It’s precisely Papa’s love of high quality, designer clothes from the likes of Takeo Kikuchi or Yohji Yamamoto to Gianni Versace that endeared him to the fashion conscious media worldwide and introduced him and his music to a new audience. Today, the quest is to elevate him beyond being tagged a “fashion play”, to further extend his audience and ensure his musical longevity.

“When people talk about Papa Wemba, I don’t want them to say I am an African singer, or a world music singer. I would like people to say just ‘singer’. Because that’s what I am. A singer. Full stop.”

(notes by Paul Bradshaw)

“…in terms of marrying precise, pop flash to an exuberant African (or, indeed, Latin) beat, this gets as close as almost anyone to the state of the art.”
Q Magazine (UK)

“The African singer with the greatest voice is Papa Wemba. it is extraordinary, it’s a very sort of sensual voice, quite a high voice, but it’s a very melodic and beautiful instrument”
Peter Gabriel

About the Artist

Papa Wemba

The trajectory of Papa Wemba‘s musical career was long, varied and adventurous. Years of youthful apprenticeship during the ’60s and ’70s in the clubs of Kinshasa, Zaire, led to Wemba pioneering a new, aggressive afro-pop known as ‘rhumba-rock.’ He became one of the most enduring artists who have recorded for Real World Records.

Papa Wemba released three albums for the label – Le Voyageur (1992), Emotion (1995) and 1998’s Molokai, a live studio recording of classic hits and new songs. He is featured on the compilations Voices of the Real World and Spirit of Africa. He also appeared on the Big Blue Ball album project.

Papa Wemba was one of the greatest vocalists Real World Records has worked with – not just from Africa but in the world. It was an honour to have been involved in his illustrious career.

The release of Emotion was a real turning point for Papa Wemba and one of his most important albums. As an artist he was quiet and enigmatic but ready to embrace change, challenging the foundations of his music and seeking new territories and new audiences.

Working with producer Stephen Hague and Lokua Kanza alongside Papa Wemba’s fantastic band at Real World Studios was one of the most exciting sessions in the label’s history.

It was with great sadness that we learnt of Papa Wemba’s death in 2016. He is a great loss to the music world but will always be part of the DNA of Real World Records.

I had the great pleasure of working with Papa on his ‘Emotion’ album in 1995. I only knew of him as a singer when we started the project, but through a number of sessions at Real World, and at studios in London and Paris, I got to know him as a man, and experience first hand his integrity, grace and humour. Always kind to those around him, but with just enough edge to remind you why he was the Papa, he was a true gentleman and a consummate musician. And man, could he sing!

He died onstage… an artist to the last breath. Bonne soirée Monsieur Wemba… good luck at your next stop.
Stephen Hague, producer of Emotion

Peter Gabriel describes Papa Wemba as, “such an extraordinary talent – music flowed out of him effortlessly and he could thrill people with one of the most beautiful and emotional voices I have ever heard. His music was full of gentle rhythms and joy, but the passion came from the power of his singing, which always carried a sadness, especially in his high voice, which I found really moving. I remember talking to Chris Blackwell about all the great voices of Africa and he said that Wemba was the greatest of them all… I feel very privileged to have known him and to have had the chance to write, record and tour with one of the world’s greatest singers and musicians.”

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