Bonga – “Bairro”
Besides his big voice, there are many reasons why one can count on the Angolan superstar, Bonga Kwenda.
With a career spanning over 40 years, he is the undisputed ‘king of Semba’, and remains the biggest representative of his country’s music abroad.
He’s also one of a handful of African artists that releases with such regularity – year after year producing solid albums which seldom depart from his signature sound. But Bonga is never boring and with his 26th album “Bairro”, he once again wears the crown!
His intriguing life story is inextricably linked to Angola’s struggle for liberation from colonial oppression, and extends to include the ongoing aspiration for post-independence stability.
In the 60’s he represented his country as an athletics champion before becoming a member of the national football soccer team. Being a star sportsman allowed him freedom of movement, and with this privilege he surreptitiously carried messages across the borders, but he was eventually forced into exile himself.
He settled in Europe, met musicians from other Portuguese speaking countries, who introduced him to the sounds which inspired his hybrid style.
His debut, “Angola ’72 “, was recorded in Rotterdam in 1972; and although banned in his homeland, it entered through the underground and he became a hero of the people. Today he continues to serve as the voice of conscience, remaining dedicated to the ideal that: “We must live without harming others”.
Recorded in Lisbon and Paris, “Bairro” is rooted in Angola, and more specifically speaks of his childhood neighbourhood.
With heartfelt nostalgia the album opens with the title-track, and proceeds to alternate between soulful laments and catchy dance tracks.
With exquisite melancholy, he interprets the Cape Verdean morna style, the sexiness of Brazilian samba alongside Angola’s traditional Semba, from which it evolved.
There’s also the upbeat cumbia of Colombia and occasional injections of Congolese rumba, with compas from the French Antilles permeating infectious hits like ‘Zukada’ and ‘Mana Minga’.
As usual, it’s a predominantly acoustic album, with the guitarist as the main accompaniment to his voice. True to his trademark, he also plays the dikanza [a percussion instrument made from bamboo] and the harmonica; while the accordion [an instrument that his father used to play], also features.
With “Bairro”, Bonga remains as rich, soulful and distinguished as ever, and the charm of his husky baritone voice continues to captivate.