Richard Bona: Scenes from his life
Born in Cameroon in 1967, the singer, multi-instrumentalist and bass-player Richard Bona is very much in demand as a player of jazz and world-music. Soon after his arrival in Paris in 1989 he began playing with his fellow countryman Manu Dibango, Salif Keita from Senegal and the elite of French jazz-musicians like Didler Lockwood and Marc Ducret. Since moving to New York in 1995 he has brought two highly praised albums out and played with eminent American jazz-musicians like Joe Zawinul, Michael Brecker and Larry Coryell as well as with Chaka Kahn. Richard Bona sings in his own language Douala and lives in Downtown Manhattan.
Richard Bona´s approach to music was simple: Play as often, with as many colleagues and in as many styles as possible. At home in his village Minta in the Cameroon he began singing at the age of 5 in the church choir. His ability was soon noted and made him much in demand at baptisms and weddings. Musical instruments are rare in Minta, so he made his own. These included wooden flutes, percussion instruments and even a 12-stringed guitar. Later he was lucky enough to meet the right musicians at the right time.
His family moved with him to Douala, where a Frenchman opened a jazz-club in 1980. He asked Richard Bona to form a band for the club and to listen to his vast collection of jazz records. On hearing the famous sound of Jaco Pastorius´ bass guitar, Richard Bona was thrilled by the instrument. In 1989 he moved to Paris at the age of 22 and went on-stage whenever given the chance, as he said in 1999 in an interview with ´Le Monde´. He frequented the ´Baiser salé´ or ´Sunset´, always with his bass guitar. He was hired by Manu Dibango and Salif Keita and soon working with leading French musicians like Didier Lockwood and Marc Ducret. Later he formed a band of his own with the pianist Jean-Michel Pilc
And then? He moved to New York of course. He was first invited over by the American flautist Colette Michaan and struck roots there in 1995, playing with Larry Coryell, Michael Brecker and Steve Gadd. In one of the many night-clubs he was heard by Jake Holmes, a text-writer for Harry Belafonte, and soon afterwards became the head of Belafonte´s orchestra. In 1998 he was given a contract by Columbia and made his debut album ´Scenes of my Life´. It was a great success. Bona sang in his own language Douala and played the guitar. His texts are about memories of his youth, meetings and key experiences. Muna Nyuwe for instance speaks of his orphan: ´I walked in Rumania through the streets. It was cold. I saw this boy and was told he was an orphan. He was no older than three or four years, was almost naked, shivering.´
Richard Bona took his time before bringing his next album ´Reverence´ out. Once more the Cameroon troubadour with the angelic falsetto accompanied himself on the acoustic guitar, the bass, keyboard and percussion. The arrangements range from the movingly simple, like in the first track, ´Invocation´ to contagious orchestral ballads like ´Sunninga´. This album sounds tougher than ´Scenes of my Life´. It includes tender ballads like ´Invocation´, a duet with the Cuban pianist Edsel Gomez in the form of ´Esoka´, but also groovy funk like in ´Ngad´a Ndutu´ (Widow-Dance), in which Richard Bona´s bass recalls Jaco Pastorius and vies with Michael Brecker´s tenor-saxaphone and Vinnie Colaiuta´s drumming. Moreover, for a New Yorker, there are the nearly obligatory salsa-like pearls like ´Ekwa Mwato´ and ´Mbanga Kumba´ as well as real funky hits.
When Richard Bona is not on tour with Joe Zawinul, Michael Brecker, Larry Coryell, Chaka Kahn or Queen Latifah, he plays in the clubs ´Izzy Bar´ and ´Zinc Bar´ in Downtown Manhattan.
Events at the HKW:
Saturday, 11th March, 2000
Richard Bona, Cameroon/New York
Duala meets Jazz
Organiser: House of World Cultures
Sunday, 15th July, 2001
Jazz Across the Border
Richard Bona Band (New York)
The musicians taking part:
Richard Bona - electric bass, guitar, vocals
Etienne Stadwijck - keyboards
Oz Noy - guitar
Aaron Heick - saxophones
Stefan Vera - drums
Urbano Sanchez - percussion
Organiser: House of World Cultures
Richard Bona was born in 1967 in the village Minta in the east of Cameroon in a musical family, his grandfather being a singer and musician. Already at the age of 5 he sang with his mother and four sisters in the church-choir. Since there were no instruments to be bought in Minta, he made his own, not only wooden flutes and drums but also a 12-stringed guitar. The turning-point in his life came in 1980, after he had moved with his parents to Douala, where a Frenchman opened a jazz club. He let Richard Bona listen to his collection of 400 to 500 jazz records and invited him to perform.
By chance, the first record he chose to listen to was ´Weather Report´ from the group of the same name. Bona was so thrilled by the bass of Jaco Pastorius that he himself began learning this instrument. In 1989 he moved to Paris and was soon performing with musicians like Manu Dibango, Salif Keita and Didier Lockwood. Seven years later he moved to New York and for one and a half years became the leader of the Harry Belafonte Band. He also performed with many jazz and world-music stars like Joe Zawinul, Michael Brecker, Larry Coryell, Chaka Kahn and Queen Latifah. In 1999 his first solo album ´Scenes from my Life´ appeared, and in 2001 ´Reverence´ followed. Richard Bona lives with his son Leo in Manhattan, whereas his sister lives with his 12 year-old daughter in Paris.
This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the culturebase.net partner institutions.
(21 June 91 - 15 July 01)