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Body of Rumba King Papa Wemba Returns to DR Congo

The body of Congolese "rumba king" Papa Wemba arrived home in Kinshasa on Thursday, where it was greeted by a huge crowd of distraught fans after the musician’s collapse during a show in Ivory Coast.

Papa Wemba had begun his singing career in religious choirs in which he developed his trademark high range voice, making his debut in the capital Kinshasa. His body will be buried on Tuesday on the outskirts of Kinshasa.

His body was flown home after an all-night musical tribute in Ivory Coast to the legendary African music star, who died on Sunday at the age of 66 during a show in Abidjan.

The white coffin draped in the Democratic Republic of Congo flag was received by Prime Minister Augustin Matata Ponyo and parliament speaker Aubin Minaku before being taken off in a hearse.

Relatives of the flamboyant performer were also at the airport, along with tribal chiefs and numerous admirers of the artist who was a stalwart of Africa’s musical scene for more than 40 years.

"News of the death of Papa Wemba was an earthquake," Ivorian Culture Minister Maurice Kouakou Bandaman told reporters.

Dozens of musicians took part in a tribute concert to Papa Wemba in Abidjan overnight that was billed as a "big artistic wake".

A funeral for the father of six will take place on Monday and he will be buried on Tuesday on the outskirts of Kinshasa.

Papa Wemba helped to pioneer a blend of Congolese rumba with Western electric rock as part of the world music explosion of the 1980s. Dance was an integral part of the nattily-dressed performer’s shows.

After working with other Kinshasa artists, he launched his own band Viva La Musica in 1977 and gained world renown when African music became popular in Europe and the United States in later years.

"I’m flummoxed. I don’t know what’s happening. All our great musicians are dying one after the other," Delico Nzinga, a Kinshasa fan, said on hearing news of his death.

The Ivorian culture minister said that Ivory Coast’s President Alassane Ouattara had instructed him to set up "a crisis unit to ensure (that Papa Wemba’s death in Ivory Coast) does not damage relations" with DR Congo "on account of the stature of the deceased".

"Papa Wemba has entered a greater joy because for every stage artist, what a joy to die on stage," Bandaman added.

By Robert Muriisa.

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