Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Bonga: Best of Bonga

Best of Bonga
John Clewley reviews Best of Bonga
Bonga's music is a bubbling mix of Portuguese folk music, local roots rhythms and styles like kizomba and samba, with some strong Latin elements (during the Angolan civil war, Cuban soldiers were stationed in Angola). He has a haunting voice that ''cracks'' in a in a way similar to the blues singer Bobby Bland as he soars over an accompaniment that features twirling guitars _ reminiscent of Portuguese fado music _ and subtle hypnotic percussion. At first I only liked his sad ballads _ the so-called lamentos _ like the spellbinding Mona Ki Ngi Xica and the forlorn Kianje, the former from his debut album, but now I've started to really appreciate the other rhythms he uses; you can hear Brazilian sounds on some tracks which is not surprising when you consider that samba was taken to Brazil by Angolan slaves and can be found in Bahia, where samba became the basic template for the development of one of Brazil's most famous rhythms, the samba.

There are also some connections between Angola and the other former colonies _ you can hear strains of the Cape Verdean morna, for instance. There is a version of the Verdean song Sodade (the Portuguese Creole for saudade, that bitter-sweet melancholic feeling that permeates all Portuguese influenced music) that Bonga recorded in 1974, years before Cesaria Evora would make it one of her torch songs and an international hit.

If you track down this album and enjoy Bonga's music, I recommend that you check out his heir apparent, Waldemar Bastos, whose music I reviewed a few years back. Both are major artists and both have been somewhat overlooked by critics more interested in West African music. This compilation by Bonga is changing this view somewhat _ in the past year the album which is mid-priced, has cropped up on many Top 10 lists and has sold well in Europe. Highly recommended.
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