Artist Profiles: Bonga

Bonga
Bonga

Bonga is one of Africa’s most inspirational musicians and part of the rare type of artists whose art derives its power from social and political upheaval. This Angolan legend recorded his first albums during his country’s struggle for freedom from Portuguese rule in the early 1970s. He has earned his place along side artists such as Fela Kuti, Thomas Mapfumo and Miriam Makeba as an advocate of the independence of Africa.

Angola 74, Bonga’s second album, was recorded during his exile from Angolan and Portuguese authorities. Much like Angola 72, Bonga’s first record, Angola 74 was dedicated to those who fought for freedom in Angola. Bonga’s first two recordings breathed new life into traditional Afro-Portuguese musical expression and opened the door for ancient ideas from Angola’s past to become revitalized ideals for the future. For many years Angolan’s had ignored or suppressed their native music as the effects of a colonial mentality wore on traditional music it faded from popularity.

Bonga’s main music style, semba, has ancient roots and served as the foundation for samba when it was exported to Brazil via the slave trade in the 18th and 19th centuries. A lilting and engaging form of music, semba blends drums, scrapers, rattles and other percussion with the melodies and strings of Portugal.

Angola 74 is elegantly sparse, using minimum instrumentation and achieving maximum results. In later years Bonga expanded his lineup incorporating more horns and electric instruments experimenting with new sounds and methods of creating music. Angola 74, like Angola 72, represents the invigorating purity and subtlety of expression in Bonga’s early work and serves as a clear affirmation that in many case’s less is undeniably more.

Bonga’s personal history is strewn with triumph and tragedy. Born 1943, he grew up in a working class community on the outskirts of Luanda, Angola’s capital. At birth he was given the Portuguese name Barcelo de Carvalho but changed it to his traditional Angolan name as he grew into a stronger political consciousness. Barcelo de Carvalho became a national hero. A gifted runner he was the 400-meter champion of the Portuguese national team, as well as a soccer star on Lisbon’s Benfica squad.

During this time however, Portuguese officials did not fail to notice that his fermenting political resistance had started to sweeten throughout his rise as a sports hero. Just before Bonga recorded his first album he was forced into exile settling first in The Netherlands and later moving between other European cities for a number of years. His music became a rallying cry for his people and a symbol of resistance. The lyric speaks of literal emancipation while the music symbolized the need for cultural pride.

Angolan independence was achieved in 1975 and Bonga finally returned to his homeland. The victory over Portugal turned out to be just the beginning of Angola’s problems, however, as internal power struggles created one of the longest running civil wars in African history.

Since the early years of these first two recordings, Bonga has gone on to produce a number of successful and critically acclaimed albums. He toured extensively. Practically a household name in Africa and Europe, Bonga has created a highly respected body of work that is marked by the unique power of his voice and his ability to cling to his convictions no matter how staggering the opposition.

Discography:

Angola 72 (Morabeza, 1972. Reissued by Lusafrica 2621622)
Angola 74 (Morabeza 6810442-24, 1974. Reissued by Lusafrica 262192 and Tinder 42846652, 1999)
Angola 76 (Morabeza 6810865, 1976)
Racines (Playasound PS 601, 1978)
Kandandu (Chant du Monde LDK74720, 1979)
Kualuka Kueta (Playasound PS 606, 1983)
Sentimento (Chant du Monde 474643, 1985)
Angola, compilation (Playasound PS 65013, 1988)
Reflexão (Discosette, 1988)
Malembe-Malembe (Discosette, 1989)
Diaka (Discosette, 1990)
Paz Em Angola, compilation (Rounder CD5052, 1991)
Geraçôes (Discosette, 1992)
Katendu, compilation (Melodie 79567-2, 19993)
Fogo na Kanjica (Vidisco 11.80.2045, 1994)
Swinga Swinga the Voice of Angola 102% Live (Piranha PIR 1040, 1996)
Preto e Branco (Vidisco 11.81.1455, 1996)
Roça de Jindungo (Vidisco 11.80.7505, 1997)
Dendém de Açucar (Vidisco 11.80.7645, 1998)
Falar de Assim (Vidisco 11.80.7850, 1999)
Mulemba Xangola (Lusafrica 362272, 2001)
Kaxexe (Lusafrica, 2003)
Bonga Live (Lusafrica 462242, 2005)
Maiorais (Lusafrica 462252, 2006)
Bairro (2009)
Hora Kota (Lusafrica, 2011)
Recados De Fora (Lusafrica, 2016)

Author: Angel Romero

Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music and progressive music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music and electronic music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World, Lektronic Soundscapes, and Mindchild Records. Angel is currently based in Durham, North Carolina.

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