Matumona Defao Lulendo "Le General Defao" - 27 January 1995 at The African Hall, Dalston, London (by Martin Sinnock)

The Congo Kinshasa Update # 2: From Choc Stars to Big Stars

(Choc Stars & Le General Defao)

Written by Martin Sinnock

Concert photos copyright Martin Sinnock

The Beat : Article # 2

Volume 15 # 4 – August 1996 

Editor's Introduction:

AfricaSounds is pleased to present the second instalment of Martin Sinnock's celebrated column on Congolese music, entitled "The Congo Kinshasa Update" which is featured in the bi-monthly world music publication "The Beat".  This second Congo Kinshasa Update features one of my all-time favorite singers... Matumona Defao Lulendo who is more commonly known as "General Defao".  I first heard Defao while living in Cameroon during the mid-1990s, when his hit "Famille Kikuta - 2eme Mi-Temps" was all the rage in Cameroon (and I presume throughout Central Africa).  His spot-on, operatic voice always seems to be in key, even in extended live concert performances.  The song writing is catchy and sophisticated; the arrangements well orchestrated with fine musicianship.  He does not restrain his chorus (unlike some other major Congolese artists) and lets each singer lead and sing to his heart's content.  The guitar solos build and end in hypnotic, tantalizing sebenes.  Most importantly, Defao's songs begin with a beautiful melody which builds and builds as musicians and singers add elements of tension to the mix, until the songs erupt in an explosive sebene.  Listening to Defao's music, I found myself hooked to Congolese rumba.

When I returned to the US I quickly bought up as many Defao LPs and CD releases as I could find.  By the late 1990s, I was thrilled to learn that Defao was coming to America for an extended tour.  It was during his first tour to the US that I met Defao on multiple occasions and befriended many members of his group, The Big Stars.  I also witnessed the gradual disintegration of The Big Stars and watched as one of my favorite orchestras fell apart due to some unfortunate circumstances.  His band members can now be found working in many of the leading Congolese music orchestras (Olomide, Wemba, Boziana, etc). 

Martin Sinnock's in-depth feature on the Choc Stars and on Defao's solo career with The Big Stars orchestra will provide you with an excellent overview and entice you to seek out and listen to the many superb releases detailed below. 

- Bikutsi 1, AfricaSounds

   

The Congo Kinshasa Update:

The second article in the ongoing series of columns covering the contemporary music of the Congo in the magazine The Beat was published in Volume 15 # 4 which was the August 1996 issue of the magazine.  At the time the singer Defao Matumona was the rising star of Congolese music and he was one of the champions of the dance Kibinda Nkoï (the footsteps of the leopard) which was to mutate, in 1997, into the celebrated dance Ndombolo.  Defao was to become virtually the King of Ndombolo due to his remarkably agile dancing ability which belied his portly physique. 

 
   

I have been fortunate enough to meet up with Defao and spend time with him in the recording studio and at one time he used to call me regularly whilst on his travels in Africa asking me to make cassette recordings of some of his favourite music.  Defao was particularly keen to have copies of my collection of recordings by the group Orchestre Kiam who featured a singer Bakolo Keta who later became a member of Defao’s Big Stars.  The other artist that he would always ask for was the great singer Tabu Ley Rochereau – an obvious influence.  In later articles in the Congo Kinshasa Update I have reviewed many subsequent recordings of Defao.  His prominence in the Congolese music arena has greatly diminished in the last few years.  This is due partly to his own naive business sense and partly due to lack of any competent management.  Despite this he remains amongst my favourite half-dozen singers and from my own experiences I would say that he is a thoroughly nice guy – albeit slightly eccentric.  I sincerely hope that he eventually achieves the acclaim that he so thoroughly deserves.

 
   

From Choc Stars to Big Stars

Following last issue's investigation into the recent output of Papa Wemba's Viva la Musica the Congolese music specialist, broadcaster and journalist Martin Sinnock now gives us an insight into the recent recordings of Choc Stars and the sensational breakaway Defao and the Big Stars.

 
   

The Choc Stars

 
   

Choc Stars are a part of the family of bands that are off-shoots of Zaïko Langa Langa.  Zaïko of course were the acknowledged leaders of the new generation of youth bands that sprung up in the late sixties and early seventies and served as an anti-dote to the classic Congolese rumba bands of the fifties and sixties.
   
Of all the main off-shoots of Zaïko it was perhaps Choc Stars who received the least publicity in the West.  Their fame was eclipsed by that of their predecessors Langa Langa Stars, their successors Anti-Choc and other rivals from the family of Zaïko like Papa Wemba's Viva la Musica, Emeneya's Victoria Eleison and Koffi Olomide's Quartier Latin.  

  

 
   

 

 Choc Stars: Petit Prince, Defao, Ditutala & Djanana

 
   
There has always been a certain understated and idiosyncratic charm to the music of Choc Stars.  They have over their 13 year history created a remarkable body of work.  Something in the region of fifty albums having been released either under the Choc Stars name or else under the name of individual singers.  Their music has always had a romantic, tranquil, even spiritual edge to it but, like all of the Kinshasa bands, they are able to transform a serene ballad into a storming dance-piece at the flip of a switch.  Or more typically in the case of Choc Stars they are able to develop a song through subtle pace changes and modulations.     
   

 

 

Choc Stars - Premier Amour LP

 

 

 
So instead of the standard two-part song with a rumba (slow section) followed by a sebene (dance section) they might use three or four sections to the song thereby gradually and hypnotically working their magic on the unsuspecting listener.  Not only are their vocals divinely distinctive but also their guitar sound and animations ("Roboti-Robota", “Eh Wakatsa",  "Swelema", "Nbala Suka") are instantly recognisable.  This band, like each of the other major Kinshasa acts, has its own system of playing which immediately differentiates it from its contemporaries.  
   

 

 

Choc Stars: Carlito, Debs, Defao, Roxy and Ben Nyamabo

 
   

 

 Le Duo Choc a Paris- Vol1

 

   
Choc Stars was originally formed in November 1983 by Mutombo Ben Nyamabo who remains its leader today.  With him at the inception were singer Bozi Boziana and guitarist Roxy Tshimpaka both formerly of Zaïko and both of whom had in 1981 formed the Zaïko breakaway Langa Langa Stars with Evoloko Jocker, Dindo Yogo, Djuna Djanana, Kisangani Esperant and Djo Mali.   
   

  

  Djo Mali, Djanana, Defs & Bozi Boziana

Djo Mali

     

 Ben Nyamabo

Ben Nyamabo

 Carlito

   

 

Roboti Robota

   
Ben Nyamabo, never a major musical force himself, seems to have the talent to surround himself with the cream of Kinshasa singers and musicians.  Joining vocalists Bozi Boziana and Ben himself in the mid eighties were some impressive singers - Monza Premier, who after two big Choc Stars hits set out on his own with Orchestre Stars- Magnats only to eventually die in comparative obscurity; Carlito Lassa, one of the Congo’s most important voices who frequently sang with Franco's OK Jazz and was used by OK Jazz guitarists Simaro and Papa Noel to vocalise their own solo projects;  Defao Matumona (more about him later);  Djuna Djanana, like Bozi and Roxy, formerly one of the leaders of Langa Langa Stars;  Dieka Debaba, set to become another tremendously important singer, who had come from Historia an off-shoot of Victoria Eleison;  and the impressive but lesser known Nzola Ndonga Petit Prince from Victoria Eleison, Nzaya Nzayadio from Lipua-Lipua, and Zemano Germain Kanza from Zaïko.   
   

Choc Stars "5eme Anniversaire"

 
 
   

 

 Carlito & Debs from the "Jardin Abandonne" LP

 

 

  

Djanana & Choc Stars

Djanana

   

 

 

Djanana

Djanana

Toward the end of the decade they also had Joly Bakiemen Mubiala (half brother of Emeneya) singing with them for a while.  Long-term solo guitarist Roxy was joined by another soloist SOS Watondo, and later in the nineties by Burkina-Faso, whilst mi-soloist was Carrol Makamba and the third guitar part was played by Teddy Accompa.  Another former Zaïko and Langa Langa Stars member Djo Mali was the regular bass guitarist with Wajery Lema acting as alternate bassman.  Leading the rhythm section throughout the history of Choc Stars has been the Atalaku (animateur) Ditutala Kuama and for many years the band had as a regular member one of the Congo’s best drummers Djudjuchet.   

 

Choc Stars - Live LP

 

 

 Petit Prince, Defao, Debs & Carlito

 
   

 

 

 Ibrahim Bula LP

 
     

  Defao from "Aime La Congolaise"

DVLievin sleeve featuring Defao & Koffi Olomide

 
   

Choc 1986 - Vol 2

Defao 1989

   
Choc Stars early successes featured predominantly the voice of Bozi Boziana and it would be fair to say that his two year period with Choc Stars was one of the most prolific and creative periods in his entire career.  Classic recordings like “Sandu Kotti”, “Alena”, “Mbuta-Mutu”, and the four volumes of Retrouvailles a Paris  emanated from these years.  Recently released is the CD compilation Benz Bozi Boziana - La Belle Epoque (Ngapy 404091) which captures some of his best recordings with Choc Stars.  

 Bozi Boziana, Ben Nyamabo and Roxy

Bozi Boziana

   

 

"La Belle Epoque" - Original Artwork

"La Belle Epoque" - Alternative Artwork

   
By the time Bozi broke away to form his own outfit Anti-Choc in November 1985 Ben had built enough vocal strength in the Choc Stars line-up to adequately compensate for the loss.  By this stage three voices were sublimely leading the vocal attack: As a three-part vocal harmony Carlito, Debaba, and Defao could have been created in heaven.  However, irrespective of which combination of singers they chose, the recorded output of either the band or its individuals seems, in retrospect, to be uniformly superb.  Some of this material has become available on Compact Disc and the following recordings from this period are recommended:  
   

Zikonda/Riana (FDB 300018) 

 

 

 

 
   
Les Merveilles du Passe - Choc Stars - Vol.3  (FDB 300006)  
   

 
   
Munduki Elelo (Wotre Music Distribution 718025)  
   

 

 

 Djo Mali, Ditutala, Petit Prince & Djanana

   

As we moved into the 1990's the fortunes of Ben Nyamabo and Choc Stars declined and it started to look like the party might be coming to an end.  Having already lost singers Monza and Bozi in the mid eighties Ben now watched as the dream line-up gradually dwindled.  Djanana departed, partially to return to Langa Langa Stars for some projects and eventually to join Papa Wemba where he has re-found some of his former fame now as a regular member of Viva la Musica.  Bass guitarist Djo Mali took a similar route back to Langa Langa Stars eventually to join Zaïko Langa Langa Familia Dei (the no. 2 line-up of Zaiko) and then to resort to occasional "nzonzing" (impromptu session work).  Defao in 1990 broke away to form his own band and to become one of the Congo’s top artists with his Orchestre Big Stars. 

 
   

 

   Defao, Carlito & Debaba

 
   
Carlito pursued his OK Jazz career devoting less and less time to Choc Stars before in 1995 sensationally announcing his retirement from music in order to pursue a Christian musical career.  This announcement came just before the release of his superb Africa Na Moto (Declic 50480-2) cd.  Debaba similarly departed to pursue a solo and session career before he too renounced profane music for Christianity.  Guitarist Roxy Tshimpaka himself left in order to re-join Zaïko Nkolo Mboka (the no. 1 line-up of Zaïko Langa Langa), and Petit Prince, SOS Matondo, Carrol Makamba and Ditutala also dramatically deserted.  
   

 
   

Despite the gradual but devastating defections Ben still managed to release a couple of good early nineties albums :

Bakuke ( Sonodisc CD 61402 )

 
   

 
   
Laisser Passer (Tamaris CD 92012)  
   

 
   

Bakuke was released in 1992 before Debaba, Carlito and Roxy had left; and the 1993 release Laisser Passer still had Debaba in the band.  In 1995 however the band made a sensational come-back releasing what for me turned out to be two of the best records of the year:  

Dernier Metro  (Ngapy 404071)

 
   

 
   

Bango Oyo Baye - Action Direct - Nouvel Album 1995 (Shabani F 170 CD)

 
   

 
   
Dernier Metro is packaged to look like a posthumous release with a sleevenote that states that it was the last session of the complete band before the big defection of Defao, Debaba and Carlito.  Although Defao had left to form his Big Stars in 1990 he was still amicable enough with Ben to return for some Choc Star recordings.  Joining the heaven sent trio are Germain Kanza and Nzaya Nzayadio.  Ben himself was not credited on this disc and may well have been absent through illness or even possibly during a spell in prison.  Guitarists are Roxy, SOS and Carrol, Wajery on bass, drummer Wadadi and animateur Ditutala.  The cd opens with a 15 minute medley of "Taty Type" and "Mokolo Mosusu" , two great songs composed by Swiss based Sedjo-Ka de Meli-Melo, an occasional collaborator of Choc Stars.   
   
Dernier Metro was certainly the last recording of the band "au grand complet" (with the full line-up) but the follow up Bango Oyo Baye was equally impressive despite the absence of Debaba and Carlito.  Again Ben managed to bring Defao back to the fold for this recording and since things had not worked out for Roxy in Zaïko Langa Langa he too was back in Ben's line-up.  It turns out to be another Choc Stars gem despite some slightly intrusive keyboard and its unsophisticated sound quality.  Ably assisting Defao and Ben with the vocals are Petit Prince, Germain Kanza and Nzaya Nzayadio.  
   

Defao and Big Stars

 
     

It is my opinion that Defao has perhaps the finest technical voice in the Congo.  Most of the top singers like Bozi Boziana, Koffi Olomide, Emeneya, even Zaiko and Wenge Musica have superb voices – however, like singers in all forms of music, they have moments of difficulty finding their pitch - particularly during live performances.  On occasion I've heard top bands' vocal sections excruciatingly out of tune for perhaps the first hour of a show until inexplicably they suddenly gel together and harmoniously soar like an angelic choir.  Defao, however, is a singer who never seems to have pitch problems.  On disc his voice is always effortlessly in tune, an accomplishment that I was amazed to witness recreated on stage for nearly five hours when I first caught his live show.

Matumona Defao Lulendo "Le General Defao" - 27 January 1995 at The African Hall, Dalston, London (by Martin Sinnock)

 

 

Matumona Defao Lulendo "Le General Defao" - 27 January 1995 at The African Hall, Dalston, London (by Martin Sinnock)

 

 
   

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.

 
       

Matumona Defao Lulendo "Le General Defao" - 27 January 1995 at The African Hall, Dalston, London (by Martin Sinnock)

 
   

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.

                                  Jeanpy Wable 

 

   

Solo guitarist Safro Manzangi  and rhythm guitarist Jagger Bokoko- 27 January 1995 at The African Hall, Dalston, London (by Martin Sinnock)

 
   

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 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 DjoDjo Bayenge, Debleu Kinanga, Adoli Bamweniko, guitar accompanist Mogus, bass guitarist Guy Wa Nzambi, drummer Richa Cogna Cogna and percussionists Sejo and Kavanda.

   

 

 

.Defao & Abololo St. Esprit (singer and creator of dances) (at right) - 27 January 1995 at The African Hall, Dalston, London (by Martin Sinnock)

 

Since its inception and (at the time of writing this article in 1996) there have been at least seventeen Big Stars releases, six of which came onto the European marketplace in 1995.  Add this to the body of work that he released whilst with Choc Stars under either his own name or else as the featured composer of the band and we are left with an extremely impressive catalogue of music.

 

Azanga - 27 January 1995 at The African Hall, Dalston, London (by Martin Sinnock)  

Here are just a few of my personal recommendations of Defao material with Shakara Gagna Gagna, Choc Stars and Big Stars:-

Orchestre Shakara Gagna Gagna - Luvambanu ( Afro Rythmes AR 1006) - One of several sessions Defao did for Jeanpy Wable Gypson.    

Orchestre Choc Stars - DV/Lievin/Gina/Santa (Afro Rythmes AR 0993/Globestyle ORB009) - This 1986 French release featuring four Defao songs with guest vocalist Koffi Olomide was subsequently issued in England by Globestyle as "Choc-Shock-Choc" along with Awa et Ben (ORB010 ).  The superlative track “Santa” was later included on a Big Stars cd - Engunduka (FDB 300071).

Defao and Carlito - Le Duo Choc a Paris Vol 1 (Anytha Ngapy SA300084) - 1986 record with Defao, Carlito and Debaba plus Ringo Star on solo guitar.

Choc Stars - Roboti Robota Deux a Deux (Afro Rythmes AR0998) - Singers Defao, Bozi and Monza Premier.

Choc Stars - Nalandaka Te (Espera 618) - Includes Defao's classic "Obi".

   

 

Jagger Bokoko

 
   
Defao - La Force Tranquille (Clesh Atipo Ngapi ANC 1198) - From 1989 and still one of my favourite Defao albums this features guest vocalists Koffi Olomide, Pepe Kalle, Luciana and Carlito plus musicians from Choc Stars.  Now available as a cd - La Saga de Defao (FDB 300101) which combines La Force Tranquille with a superb 1989 Defao led Choc Stars album Chagrin Dimone.  However if you are fortunate enough to ever see the LP of La Force Tranquille buy it because it has a completely different and superior mix to the cd.  
   

 

 

Chagrin Dimone LP

 
   

"La Saga de Defao" - Original Artwork

"La Saga de Defao" - Alternative Artwork

   
Defao - Aime la Congolaise (Rythmes & Musique RMU 900) - 1990 release with the ideal combination of voices Defao, Carlito, Debaba and guest Papa Wemba. 

Defao & son groupe - Hitachi (Anytha Ngapy 0908 DF) -  Another 1990 release with Choc Stars featuring Defao, Debaba, Nzaya and Kanza just prior to Defao leaving the band. 

Hitachi is now available on cd combined with Kopalangana Te under the cd title Les Merveilles du Passe - Defao & Choc Stars  - Vol. 2 (FDB 300002)".

 
   

 

Defao- Hitachi LP

Defao

   

 
   

Defao - Amour Scolaire (CD 60330) - The first really big hit for Defao after leaving Choc Stars.  Released on CD in 1992.

 
   

 
   

Defao & les Big Stars - Engunduka (FDB 300071) - Four early Big Stars tracks plus two Choc Stars classics "Santa" and "Lina de Olo".

 
   

 
   

Big Stars du General Defao - Djem's (Sonodisc CD 65052)

 
   

 
   
Defao & les Big Stars - Benson (Tonton Jacques TON 001) - London based producer Tonton Jacques managed to release what is my favourite post Choc Stars release by Defao.  Another impressive line-up of guest vocalists Dindo Yogo, Reddy Amisi, Luciana, Djuna Djanana; and joining Big Stars soloist Jagger and animateur Azanga are guitarist Alain Makaba from Wenge Musica, keyboard session wizard Nzenze and percussionist Iko Ikonolo from Viva la Musica.  
   

 
   
Defao - Pitie Mon Amour (Maillot Jaune MJ 01 CDS)  
   

 
   

Defao - Famille Kikuta (Defao Production DEF 001)

 
   

 
   
Le General Defao - Dernier Album 95 (Antabel ATB 03)     
   

 
   
Footnote:  Although I have mentioned only a few Big Stars items I would wholeheartedly recommend all of their releases except perhaps APO (FDB 300191) which suffers from a very clumsy mix.   
   
Coming Soon...More "Congo Kinshasa Updates" on AfricaSounds

This concludes the 2nd of a series of "Congo Kinshasa Updates" by Martin Sinnock.  AfricaSounds is thrilled to be working alongside Martin on this special project.  We hope that you have enjoyed the commentary and corresponding images from Martin Sinnock's extensive Congolese music archives.  We are please to announce that the "Congo Kinshasa Updates" will continue with the following upcoming features.  Please note that the original texts are from The Beat magazine, a highly recommended bi-monthly print publication.

 

Martin Sinnock  in 1996 - Martin can be heard broadcasting his radio show "Viva La Musica" on Totally Radio - [LINK] 

Upcoming Features by Martin Sinnock:
  1. Article # 3 -  "Bozi Boziana: Zaiko to Anti-Choc with a string of beautiful women"
  2. Article # 4 -  "London, Paris, Kin, Brazza - Everybody Talk'about! King Kester Emeneya & Victoria Eleison"
  3. Article # 5 -  "Zaiko Langa Langa - The Spirit Still Exists"