Immediately before establishing his new orchestra, Papa Wemba adopted the commune (or 'village') Molokai in the heart of Kinshasa's busy Matonge district as the band's home. Molokai was to act as a place for Wemba and his future musicians and fanatics to cohabit, and was governed by its own set of rules and regulations, over which Wemba presided. Through the foundation of this, his own village community, Wemba adopted the nicknames of 'Bokulaka' and 'Chef Couturier de la Village Molokai'. It was also during this period that he began to attract the prefix 'Papa', spoken to him as a term of respect by both Viva's fans and musicians alike.
Wemba in beret 1977

Wemba took the name Viva La Musica from an LP by New York salsa star Johnny Pacheco whom, along with American soul singer Otis Redding, he had long admired. The name Viva La Musica was chosen because Wemba felt it was both easy to remember and it stressed the need to produce consistently good music (see also the page on Viva La Musica's dances for further information on Wemba's choice of band name).

Rehearsals for Wemba's new ensemble were greatly assisted by the musician Soki Vangu, who loaned Wemba the backline and equipment from his own orchestra, Bella Bella. Wemba's new orchestra made its live debut at the Tabu Ley owned bar, Type K (pronounced 'Tipika') in late February of 1977.

Despite 1977 being in the middle of President Mobutu's campaign of Authenticity (a sociopolitical movement focusing on re-Africanisation, developed from China's cultural revolution) Wemba launched the band with a distinct eye on Western fashion styles, in order to attract the interest of the young Zairois. First he introduced into Viva La Musica coloured berets. Different colours were worn by each of the bands vocalists, and the fans, copied this by wearing berets in the colour of their preferred vocalist. Viva also wore fashionable, European-cut clothes and imported fabrics such as crushed velvet and denim.

Such flamboyance however, directly opposed the rules of Mobutu's Authenticity, where all male citoyens ('citizens') were expected to wear traditional fabrics cut in the style of an 'abacoste' suit (a two-piece uniform, slightly more upmarket but nevertheless based loosely around the 'high-necked' Chinese, Mao-style suit). Failing that, of course, citoyens could also wear their traditional robes.

Wemba knew that his promotion of banned European fashion items could bring him into confrontation with the state. In order to avert this problem, he introduced traditional instruments (notably the Lokole - a slit log drum that he had first introduced into the orchestra Isifi Lokole) into the Viva musical back line. He also ensured that Viva's music concentrated heavily on traditional Congolese/Zairian folk rhythms, and ethically - musically, anyway - he was solidly behind Mobutu's Authenticity campaign, often appearing on state TV, talking about both his use of traditional Zairian musics and of the spirit of, and rationale behind, the Authenticity campaign.

Early Viva La Musica songs such as 'Mère Supérieure' (dedicated to Mama Mobutu - first wife of President Mobutu), also ensured that he remained within the credible sphere of political respectability, whilst consolidating his position as one of the country's top teen idols.

To cap everything, at the close of 1977 the Kinshasa daily newspaper Elima voted Viva La Musica best orchestra, Papa Wemba best vocalist, and 'Mere Superiere' best song in their music poll for that year.

Throughout 1977, 1978 and 1979, Viva La Musica established its position as one of the top new orchestras within the Zairian music industry, with a rapid succession of hit 45s and popular new dances including 'Moku Nyon Nyon', 'Nyekesse Migue'l, 'Cou Cou Dindon'.

Having visited Europe briefly during 1977, Wemba also knew the potential that Zairian music held outside Africa. Yet the promotion of Zairian music abroad was difficult to achieve at that time, since the only orchestras officially allowed to travel to Europe were those sponsored directly by President Mobutu, such as Franco's orchestra OK Jazz and Rochereau Tabu Ley's orchestra Afrisa International.
However Wemba devised a plan and, in the summer of 1979 at the height of Viva's popularity, he announced that he was taking a six month sabbatical from leading Viva La Musica. Taking with him Viva soloist Rigo Star, he formally joined Rochereau Tabu Ley's orchestra, Afrisa International. The collaboration began by Wemba recording two compositions with Ley and Afrisa, 'Ngambo Moko' and 'Levres Roses'. Both 45s achieved success.

Wemba sings 'Adieu Tete' with Afrisa International 1979

Wemba sings 'adieu tete' with afrisa
Performing with Afrisa, Wemba then appeared live in concert alongside Ley on national TV (Tele Zaire) and, following that, accompanied Afrisa on tour dates in Senegal, Germany and France. The tour culminated in Paris.

During this visit, connections made via the orchestra leader, Tabu Ley Rochereau, helped Wemba to gain formal introductions to well established, European-based African music promoters and distributors, as well as to make his presence felt through several interviews with representatives of the Pan-African music press.
Koffi Olomide & Papa Wemba

During the early years of the orchestra Viva La Musica, Wemba also encouraged his friend, the then unknown young composer Koffi Olomide, to contribute lyrics to the orchestra.

This began with the band's first 7" single, Ebale Mbonge (1977), and included a number of the band's early hits such as 'Ekote Ya Nzube' and 'Fleur Betoko'. Koffi also claims to have composed the Viva La Musica anthem 'Mère Superieure'!!!

Following lots of speculation regarding this unknown composer, eventually Olomide began recording with Viva La Musica. The debut Viva 45" featuring Olomide's vocals was 'Princess Synza' in 1978. A rush of hits ('Sango Ndambo', 'Samba Samba', 'Cherie Lipasa' and others) followed, each increasing the profile of the young composer turned singer.

Eventually, however - mainly due to record company wrangling - Olomide and Viva were prevented from making anymore joint recordings. This lead to Olomide forming his first orchestra - Ba La Joie in 1979.

Ba La Joie's own recordings in turn featured a number of musicians guesting from both Viva La Musica and Zaïko Langa Langa. These were the beginnings of Olomide's road to stardom.That today Koffi is one of the most well loved Congolese singers worldwide is in no small way attributable to his first success with Papa Wemba and Viva La Musica.