What you need to know:
- General Defao succumbed to reported complications arising from Covid-19.
General Defao was not tall, but he was big,” writes Bob White in his book, “Rumba Rules: The Politics of Dance Music in Mobutu’s Zaire.
“He had an underbite smile, and a pleasant demeanour,” he adds.
To everyone around the world, such a description pointed to an affable and easy-going man. But not to music promoters.
In this trait of Defao, they saw an unguarded sack of money in which any of them freely dipped their hands. And fleecing, they did, taking their turns at almost every concert General Defao signed up to.
Born Lulendo Matumona on New Year’s Eve of 1958, the Congolese musician would further expose this streak in his life when a fallout with the government of former President Laurent Kabila saw him flee into exile.
One of Franco Luambo Makiadi’s most remarkable songs was the worst possible flattery too. “Candida na Biso Mobutu Sese Seko” mournfully implored all Congolese men and women to line up and vote for no one but Mobutu.
To many, it was the lowest point in Franco’s life. But it was the song that compelled Mobutu to smile back at Franco and release the grasp on the estate of the musician who had fled his brutality and decamped in Belgium.
But Defao did not attempt to weave the magic wand in his music to soften the Kabila family. Instead, he bragged that Laurent Kabila had been his chauffeur in Tanzania in years past.
After releasing “Mboka Ya Diogen” (from the 1998 album ‘Tremblement de terre’) that many interpreted as a veiled attack on Kabila and his government, Defao packed his Big Stars band for a tour of Zambia. He overstayed his welcome leading Zambian authorities to contact Kinshasa over the musicians with expired visa. With the threat of deporation to Congo, Defao shocked his promoter Kayembe Kalondji by opting to flee instead.
His next stop was Tanzania where he was rearrested with his crew in January 2002 as they attempted to sneak into Kenya with no travel documents.
Defao got away again, entering Kenya and enduring many humiliating episodes with immigration officials.
But in media interviews, he denied he was ever on the run.
“I don’t know where this is coming from,” Defao told Kenya’s the Standard newspaper in 2017.
“I want to make it clear that Laurent Kabila was once a very close friend and we shared a lot in common. It is normal for people to disagree and I don’t see why mine should be a big deal.
“We all have freedom of choice. I am not blacklisted in Congo and that means I occasionally stage concerts in certain areas except for Kinshasa. This is simply because I want my Kinshasa concert to be a grand affair owing to the fact that it is the centre of entertainment.”
To some, Defao was admitting he could not perform in Kinshasa because Kabila’s minders would get to him. In dingy concerts far from the city, he would easily sneak in and perform.
This made more sense when, as soon as Felix Tshisekedi took over, Defao made contacts with his government and returned home even before Kabila had settled in retirement.
It is difficult to tell who General Defao’s real manager was as he was almost always alone in hotels facing huge bills that he had counted on promoters.
In Kampala in 2000, his show courtesy of Jeff Richardson and Patrick Kanyali Serena left him embarrassed. Defao had to seek help after he had been fleeced. Gen Salim Saleh’s aide at the time, Juma Seiko, came to his rescue, giving him Shs7m.
A year later he was in another wet hole, this time in Kenya. He suffered the ignominy of being thrown out of Palacina Hotel room in Nairobi after the bill had accumulated to millions of shillings.
According to Kenyan media, the musician was jailed for six months in Nairobi’s Industrial Area prison before he was finally bailed out by an unnamed benefactor.
“Being in prison for six months was the worst time of my life and something I never wish to talk about,” Defao told the Standard.
He then went underground for a while. For a while, Defao made peace with the lower estates of Nairobi as he worked around picking up the pieces.
For a man who was slick with dance and silky on the vocals, the trick was in a few concerts.
But that is also where he was most vulnerable. Just as things were getting back on track, Defao was caught cold in July 2016 in Mombasa when a promoter abandoned him, again.
Kenyan musician Charles Njagua Kanyi, popularly known as Jaguar, this time stepped in to rescue the singer from being turned into a cleaner at Rickseaside Villas Nyali.
Putting his debacles behind him, Defao was by 2017 able to brag that he lived in the leafy suburbs of Nairobi’s Lavington estate.
“I am living large – making the best out of life,” he said.
Defending the kind of bleaching that would have made Bavon Siongo (Franco’s brother) and Freddy Mayaula Mayoni envious, Defao said he had delicate skin.
It was his sapeur, where others took to suits, shoes and hats.
However, in Kampala ahead of his last concert in the country in 2016, Defao told a friend that bleaching was a mark of respect in Congo.
“In Congo, bleaching is a symbol of status and every Congolese man worth his name who aspires to be admired has to bleach,” he said.
While some claims indicate he lived with a Kenyan partner, some of the friends of the late Defao told this paper there was no wife or children in Defao’s life that they knew of.
Even with no known family, however, the artiste in Defao stayed true to itself. In his “Gorgina,” he plays parent giving advice to a daughter, saying that she has to go to school to be like her brother Fabrice, in order to feed them (his father and mother) one day.
He says the little he gets, he invests in his children, refusing to go out (partying) and doing La Sape, just for the life of his children… It is one song that has always left many asking if he had children of his own. But for Defao his children were in dancing. The Ndombolo style that he popularised stood the test of time.