In a sense Bonga has always been an elder. Even as the semba singer debuted with “Angola 72” at the end of his 20s he sounded world-weary, as if several lifetimes of disappointments had sunk into his voice. Bonga’s rusty voice added more weight to his protest songs – “Mona Ki Ngi Xica” is a particularly heartbreaking rebuke of the totalitarian Portuguese colonial masters.
In addition to political engagement and an unmistakable voice, «Angola 72» points toward another universal theme of the 74-year-old’s oeuvre: his connection to Cape Verde. The album was recorded in Rotterdam with musicians from the volcanic island country. Later, the late capeverdian heroine Cesária Évora helped popularizing his music.
This connection continues on Bonga’s triumferende 30th full-length – «Recados de Fora» («Messages from elsewhere»; 2016) – which, among other places, is recorded in Mindelo, the home town of Évora. That’s very fitting, as the album largely revolves around the Atlantic – the ocean that has not only borne countless slave ships, but also been an escape route for those who have needed one.
Bonga’s music is consistently characterized by this kind of openness: He observes the world ruthlessly, but with great affection and empathy. Few things are as strong expressions of wisdom as the ability to do just that. In Europe we often see the elderly as a burden, while they’re regarded as a resource in Africa – a «fountain of wisdom», so to speak. Bonga still has plenty to teach the world.
Text: Kim Klev