Congolese music star Lulendo Matumona, better known by his stage name General Defao, will be sorely missed in Kenya where he spent 18 years of his adult life in self-imposed exile.
The 62-year-old died on Monday night at a hospital in Douala, Cameroon, after a concert tour of some West African countries.
He has had some ups and downs in his illustrious musical career but has in recent months been reorganising his band.
The burly Defao, who was a great vocalist and dancer, had for a long time been battling against diabetes, for which he had been treated in Nairobi before returning to the Democratic Republic of Congo two years ago.
Speaking to the Daily Nation yesterday, his US-based compatriot, guitarist Ngouma Lokito, remembered the mercurial Defao as an inspiring singer, who carved a niche for himself by doing collaborations with musicians from different generations.
“I remember backing him up during one of his first solo recordings in France in the 1980s,” he said. “The album, titled Damien Dimuenekene, was among those that brought me closer, working alongside him.”
He was among the first people to break the news of Defao’s death on social media.
Also speaking to the Daily Nation on Monday night, London-based Congolese musician Kanda Bongo Man expressed his grief at Defao’s death, lauding him for his efforts in popularising Congolese rhumba music globally.
“We will not only remember his efforts in recording with others, but also his resilience as a music star who weathered all manner of musical storms,” Kanda said.
Reports from Cameroon and the DRC indicated that he was gearing up for a major concert in the New Year before he was taken ill over the weekend.
Defao, who had a string of hit songs, will best be remembered for some of the big releases by his Big Stars band, including Sala Noki, Madova, Famillie Kikuta, and Maintenance.
His musical journey dates back to his earlier days in Kinshasa with the Grand Zaiko Wawa Band, an offshoot of Zaiko Langa Langa. In the outfit, he sang alongside Shimita El Diego and performed under veteran solo guitarist Pepe Felly Manuaku Waku.
Defao’s older diehard fans will also recall his time with the Kinshasa-based star-studded Choc Stars band, in which he performed alongside Debaba El Shabab, Carlito Lassa, Nzaya Nzayadio, Djo Mali Roxy Tshimpaka, Ben Nyamabo and Djuna Djanana.
One of his most notable duets was the song Mokolo Mosusu composed during his stint with the Choc Stars. It was very popular with entertainment show presenters on Congolese radio stations.
Debaba, after a brief solo career, switched to gospel music, just like former Orch Zaiko Langa Langa singer Bimi Ombale. Both Debaba and Ombale died in 2011.
Another notable pairing was that of Defao and songstress Mbilia Bel, on the song Copinage. Mbilia Bel was better known for her work with maestro Tabu Ley in Afrisa International.
In Nairobi, where he lived longer outside the DRC, his fans are planning a show to celebrate the fallen icon. Nairobi-based Congolese promoter J.C. Motindo said he was making arrangements with others to stage the show.
“It’s our desire to honour Defao with a tribute show in Nairobi, particularly considering his long stay in the city, and his many Kenyan fans,” he said.
Defao not only recorded many songs with different artistes in Kenya, but also staged various live shows. In some cases, he’d travel outside Kenya to neighbouring countries with his backup band.
Mombasa-based rhumba fan Geoff Ba’mkubwa Luyuku also praised Defao’s stellar musical prowess.
“I’ve been a big fan of his music starting from when he sang with Choc Stars until when he founded his own Big Stars. He was a great composer, singer and dancer.”