Zemp Studied musicology and anthropology at the University of Basle (1958-61) while finishing a diploma in percussion at the Basle Conservatory (1960). He then attended the Ecole pratique des hautes études and took the doctorate with Denise Paulme and André Schaeffner in 1968. He also joined the CNRS at the Musée de l'Homme in Paris, then directed by Gilbert Rouget, in 1967; and was appointed to teach ethnomusicology in 1981 at the University of Paris X-Nanterre. In 1982, he was made editor of the recording series Collection du Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique et du Musée de l'Homme, to which he has contributed recordings both before and during his term as editor.
Zemp’s extensive fieldwork in West Africa, Oceania and Switzerland have resulted in writings which are now standard reference works. His dissertation was one of the first books on African music written from the anthropological perspective. Zemp has also explored the sophisticated polyphony and structures of vernacular oral traditions of the ‘Are’are of the Solomon Islands in a number of publications. His films (such as Voix de tête, voix de poitrine, 1988) and writings about film, particularly concerning yodelling, investigate for the first time the visualization of musical structure as well as the physiological and acoustical aspects of overtone singing.