African Music

AfricOriginal: Defao 1958 – 2021

AfricOriginal: Defao 1958 - 2021

 A SHORT BIOGRAPHY 1958 – 2021*

Born in Kinshasa on 31 December 1958 Matumona Defao Lulendo started his musical career in 1976, initially in Orchestre Suka Movema, then Fogo Stars followed by Korotoro, and in 1978 Somo West. In 1981 he was enrolled into the then newly formed Grand Zaïko Wawa of guitarist Pepe Felix Manuaku before joining Ben Nyamabo in the formation of Choc Stars.

It was with both Choc Stars and Orchestre Shakara Gagna Gagna (under the direction of Jeanpy Wable Gypson) that “Le General Defao” first came to national prominence. Working beside Ben Nyamabo, Debaba, Carlito, Bozi Boziana, and Djuna Djanana in the phenomenal Choc Stars Defao developed his songwriting, singing, and dancing talent.

♫ Audio: 1989 Ibrason – Debaba, Defao et Seja Kha

He finally quit Choc Stars at the end of 1990 in order to form Big Stars with Djo Poster (another former Grand Zaïko singer). The partnership was not to last and eventually Djo departed leaving Defao to singlehandedly lead the band. He gathered together a line-up of new musicians for Big Stars. Although initially Roxy Tshimpaka joined him from Choc Stars he was not to last and eventually a young dynamic soloist Jagger Bokoko was to become Defao’s regular star attraction, along with his animateur Azanga. These two feature on virtually all of Defao’s post Choc Stars releases, sometimes with the new musicians of Big Stars and sometimes with guest session players and well known guest vocalists. Other regular Big Stars members are singers Djo Djo Bayenge, Debleu Kinanga, Adoli Bamweniko, guitar accompanist Mogus, bass guitarist Guy Wa Nzambi, drummer Richa Cogna Cogna and percussionists Sejo and Kavanda.

During the first five years of Big Stars, Defao had a very creative and productive period and released at least seventeen albums, six of which came onto the European marketplace in 1995. During the 90’s he become acknowledged as solo artist in the same league as Papa Wemba, Koffi Olomide, Bozi Boziana and Kester Emeneya. Although he still might not be selling globally in the same quantities as the others, there is no doubting his popularity among the Congolese. That popularity stems from his voice, which is both musical and forceful. His songs are classicly structured in the two-part rumba-sebene mold, and his dance animations are eminently likeable without being overtly predictable and gimmickly. Defao has not only one of the Congo’s best voices but he is without doubt the best dancer out of all major Congolese voices.

 Clip: Defao live in Abidjan – Sala noki

After 1995 he took a step back, with ‘only’ two new CDs in 1996, one in 1997 and one in 1998, the album Copinage in coöperation with Mbilia Bel. Beside the album with Mbilia Bel, Defao and Big Stars accompanied also Zaksoba, a singer from Burkina Faso on his CD Sensuel

♫ Audio: 1998 Zaksoba & Defao acc. by Big Stars – Nomg-taaba 6:40 (from the album Sensuel)

In 1999 he had again a very  productive period with five releases, including the albums Tremblement de terre and La guerre de 100 ans

This unbalanced production indicates a lack of guidance from a good manager, which is also reflected in his continual change of producer and record company. Sometimes he even releases alternate versions of the same material on different labels. 

In 2000 he dissolved his Big Star group and spent part of the summer in Paris recording the album Nessy de London, with a superstar line-up of Paris-based musicians. With the help of Nyboma Mwan Dido, Luciana De Mingongo, Wuta Mayi, Ballou Canta and Deesse Mukangi, to mention only the impressive list of co-vocalists, Defao made with Nessy de London again a fantastic record.

Then it becomes silent around Defao. It’s said that Defao got mixed up in a political misunderstanding that got him banned from performing by the late DRC president Kabila. He moves to East Africa and faces several difficulties in the new millenium, ranging from money problems to visa problems. His fans have to wait until 2006 – an unusual long period in the case of Defao – before he comes with a new album Nzombo le soir. After another four years of silence he brings out Pur encore. Apart from the fact that this album can only be downloaded and is not available as cd, it also suffers from a rather poor sound quality. This strange release shows again that Defao still has problems with managing his career into a direction which can really capitalise his big talent.

Fortunately he came back in 2012 with the fantastic cd The undertaker followed in 2016 by Any Time, in which he brought together notable musicians from both Congos, including Roga-Roga, Sam Tshintu, Manda Chante and his close friend and longtime collaborator, Godessy Lofombo

Defao was based in Kenya since 2001. In August 2019, he returned triumphantly to Kinshasa and regrouped Big Stars with some of his former musicians including Montana Kamenga and Azanga. With them and his former Choc Star colleague-singer, the legendary Bozi Boziana, he recorded his last album Bety Poni.

While touring West Africa, Defao died unexpectedly on December 27, 2021 in Douala – Cameroon at the age of 62, from COVID-19. A few days later, the Congolese Minister of Culture and Arts agreed with his family to bring his body to Kinshasa for the funeral service to take place there. His last album “Bety Poni” was released on the day of his death. With the death of General Defao, Congolese music has lost one of its best singers and dancers.

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