Chéri Samba was born in Kinto M’Vuila as the elder son of a family of ten children. His father was a blacksmith and his mother a farmer. in 1972, at the age of 16 he left the village to find work as a sign painter in the capital Kinshasa.
In 1975 he opened his own studio. At the same time he also became an illustrator for the entertainment magazine Bilenge Info. It is at this time when he developed his signature style of combining paintings with text. His work earned him some local fame.
He is the central figure in the 1982 documentary film, Kin Kiesse, offering his thoughts on life in Kinshasa. According to the film’s director, Mweze Ngangura, Chéri Samba was instrumental in the making of the film, convincing the French Ministry of Co-operation, France 2 and Congolese television that Ngangura could make a film on Kinshasa.
His breakthrough was the exhibition Les Magiciens de la Terre at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris in 1989, which made him known internationally.