“Ten Shades of Blues” is a masterpiece!
It’s the musical autobiography of an African bass-master – an album so big, that it cannot be captured in a few paragraphs.
Having first touched the world with his 1999 debut, “Scenes From My Life”, Richard Bona made it his mission to make music that’s universal and accessible to all – and this album, as a testament to his undertaking, is so beautiful that it deserves to be praised as a double page spread!
The firm foundations of this expansive offering arise out the African earth, as he tributes his humble Cameroonian beginnings, his family’s musicality and his grandfather’s mentorship.
He salutes his first instrument, the balafon [which he began at three], and pays homage to jazz, and the ensemble he formed at 13.
Also as a teenager, he heard Jaco Pastorius on albums which inspired him to switch from guitar to the electric bass – so he honours this hero and the bass, which took him abroad.
Then, stretching out he eloquently gathers together the ensuing experiences that encompass a decade of his diverse encounters with musical excellence.
In France, he worked with kings like Manu Dibango and Salif Keita; and in 1993, while playing solo at a weekly gig; he was spotted by Joe Zawinul, who suggested he join his band in the States.
After settling in New York in 1995, he toured extensively and recorded with the late-great Weather Report hero, and coming full circle, he also featured prominently on many of Jaco Pastorious’ Big Band albums.
Bona has created side-by-side with Pat Metheny, Sadao Watanabe, Mike Stern, The Brecker Brothers, Bobby McFerrin, Lokua Kanza and a multitude of others – and scattered throughout this album, are magnificent moments that acknowledge each of these shared inspirations.
All his albums have a theme, and here he chose ‘the blues’, which he explores from a universal angle, asserting that this style can be found all over – in Africa, India and America.
The album opens with a short invocation, an acapella scat that moves smoothly into track two, an invitation to meditation. Appropriately called “Shiva Mantra”, this prayer to the goddess Shiva, was recorded in New Delhi, Bombay and Madras; and features Indian classical musicians that he’d met on previous tours.
On other tracks he incorporates African mythology and indigenous instruments of the Sahel; blending aspects of Bluegrass, Country music and urban blues, by adding harmonica, banjo and fiddle.
With seamless harmony he integrates these elements in a way that always brings them back to Mother Africa!
As a fluid instrumentalist with extraordinary improvisational skills, his technical proficiency is profound, and he almost effortlessly moves from deep groove into intricate solos and swirling scats.
At times he interprets Duala melodies in English, as found on the catchiest track of all, “Good Times”, which features the urban soul voice of Frank McComb.
With these ten ways of interpreting the blues, Bona embraces world cultures by honorably acknowledging the regional interpretations of this form.
Speaking what he describes as ‘the language of the heart’, he simplifies a multitude of styles down to a common scale – in a celebratory declaration of one world!
“The most important thing to consider is to remember that we play music to
celebrate life…that’s the real meaning of music, nothing else..”
– Richard Bona [as interviewed by Jake Kot 10/01/2009]