Legendary Lingala singer Lulendo Matumona, better known as Le General Defao, has come out to set the record straight on the rumours surrounding him and his stay in Kenya. Word on the street is that the once flamboyant icon has been reduced to a backstreet performer, singing in dingy joints in Nairobi.
In his heyday, he was one musician who could bring fans in from all over the country. He kept the high and mighty in top-notch hotels across the continent, but today he lives off friends in the city.
Rumours of financial problems and lack of proper music management have dogged Defao. Kenyans remember him as the man who popularised the 'ndombolo' style together with Koffi Olomide. Local women fell in love with his silky voice not to mention his ‘waisty’ dance style despite his size.
Songs like 'Sala Noki', 'Animation', 'Agence Courage' and 'Mosolo na Ngai' among others gave him a permanent residence in the hearts of local music lovers.
Another rumour has it that Defao was banished from his country - DR Congo - by a former president following remarks he made in the song, 'Mboka Ya Diogen', in which he used metaphors to attack President Laurent Kabila’s government.
But speaking to Metropolitan, Defao, who recently curtain-raised for Mbilia Bel, denied the claims and described them as a ploy to tarnish his name.
“I don’t know where this is coming from. I want to make it clear that the late Laurent Kabila was once a very close friend and we shared a lot in common. It is, however, a normal thing for people to disagree and I don’t see why mine should be a big deal,” he said.
Defao added that his decision to settle in Kenya was personal.
“We all have freedom of choice. Besides, 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,” he claimed.
Prior to settling in Kenya, Defao was reported to have breached a contract in Ugandan in 2000. The show, courtesy of Jeff Richardson and Patrick Kanyali, at the Nile Hotel Gardens saw him left in the cold with a huge hotel bill to settle.
Reports have it that it took the intervention of a good Samaritan, former Lt Gen Salim Saleh's aide Juma Seiko, who came to his rescue by giving him UGSh7 million (Sh202,000), following an open letter the musician allegedly wrote to President Yoweri Museveni. In the letter, Defao asked for help and complained about how he had been fleeced.
Defao refused to delve into the subject, terming it insignificant and a creation of the media.
“It is unfortunate that the media, which is meant to boost my career, is busy contributing to my downfall in every way possible. Despite these damaging allegations I will continue making good music and giving my fans the best of entertainment,” he said.
In October 2001, Defao found himself on the wrong side of Kenyan law after his Nairobi promoter disappeared, leaving him with a huge hotel bill for weeks. Not only was he hauled out of his Palacina Hotel room in Kilimani, after the bill accumulated to close to Sh600,000, but he was also charged with fraud in court.
Defao, who neither understood nor spoke English at the time, caused laughter when he kept shouting “not guilty!”, prompting the presiding magistrate to postpone the case until a French translator could be brought in.
Unfortunately, the final verdict saw him spend six months in Nairobi’s Industrial Area prison before he was finally bailed out by a Kenyan friend. After leaving jail, he went underground and many assumed he travelled back to Congo or Paris as a result of the embarrassment. But he was in the country keeping a low profile.
“Being in prison for six months was the worst time of my life and something I never wish to talk about,” said Defao, who also revealed that he decided to settle in Kenya with his "Kenyan wife".
“My home is in the leafy suburbs of Nairobi’s Lavington estate. I am living large – making the best out of life.”
He denied claims that he had been reduced to a backstreet performer in places where Congolese bands based in the country are known to pitch tent and are paid peanuts.
“I am entitled to stage shows wherever I desire. After all, my music is not only for the rich - my fans cut across various backgrounds,” added Defao who is also known for curtain-raising gigs for visiting Congolese musicians on many occasions.
Two years ago, many were shocked to see the extent to which he had bleached himself. He was described as "whiter than white".
But Defao was quick to explain that he has a delicate skin condition that requires him to use a skin lightening cream that goes by the name Dermovate.
“It is sad that there are people who are always looking for scandals in my personal life instead of focusing on my music,” said the musician who was detained at Rickside Villas in Nyali, Mombasa County, mid-last year for failing to settle a Sh20,000 bill.
It was the intervention of singer Charles Kanyi aka Jaguar that bailed him out.
Does he plan to return to Congo?
“I do not want to say anything at the moment, but rest assured that I am working on something. For now I am busy working on a number of projects besides staging shows across Africa,” concluded Defao, who described Kenya as his second home and a place close to his heart.