My 1989 Interview with Papa Wemba

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Papa Wemba in 1989. Photo: Steve Laufer

As I wrote in a blog post earlier this week, Congolese rumba great Papa Wemba performed in L.A. a few times in the late 1980’s, first at the Executive Club and later as a star in an African musical at the Pantages Theater, in a show called Africa Oye. That’s where I caught him in 1989.

Africa Oye was extended into a two-week run, an unlikely possibility today. The climate for African music was better back then due to more regular coverage of African and world music both on KCRW, such as with the dedicated “African Beat” show, as well as in print outlets like Beat Magazine, the LA Weekly, and the Los Angeles Times. There was a real buzz going on.

wemba cassetteI interviewed Wemba on “Morning Becomes Eclectic” a few days after seeing the Pantages show, and with his recent passing, I pulled out the 1989 aircheck from the Schnabel archives. The interview was recorded on a 120′ cassette tape, which tends to stretch a bit over time. So although my voice sounds suspiciously like Alvin the chipmunk, I still wanted to share it so that you can hear Wemba for yourself. The interview is a bit chaotic – the French interpreter didn’t always chime in to translate – but I hope the music we play overcomes those faults. Bonus: Longtime KCRW listeners may recognize the theme of KCRW’s noon show “Newstand” with Ruth Hirschman and the late Mitchell Harding: Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag.”

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