Richard Bona: I’m no longer going to sing in African language

14 November 2018, 3:00

Richard Bona: I’m no longer going to sing in African language

The Cameroonian musician Richard Bona is returning to Brno after a year and a half. While last year the audience in the Janáček Theatre had their breath taken away by his Afro-Cuban project Heritage, this time he is coming with his international group Richard Bona Group. When on 25 November in the Sono Centre we are admiring Bono’s virtuoso guitar playing, it would be good to be aware while he may have inherited his sense of rhythm and general relationship to music from his ancestors, his current level is the result of his hard work. At least this was something he emphasised in our interview, in which we also covered Bono’s love of flamenco and for his club, which he recently opened not far from Paris.

I read that the first instrument that you played was the balafon. This is a traditional instrument of the Mandinka in Guinea, Burkina Faso and Mali. What was its role in Cameroon, where you come from

Yes, as a little boy I first began to play on the balafon. Everyone at home plays on the balafon or percussion – it is a traditional instrument. It is part of Mandé cukture in the countries you named, as with the Bantu culture. It can have various forms and various names but people across Africa play the balafon and other rhythmic instruments.

What role did your early experience play in your further career?

I don’t know what role it played in my career but playing the balafon played an important role in my musical development. Whenever later I took any instrument into my hands I always drew on the experience I gained earlier. The balafon represents my musical roots. When I play on the guitar, it sounds a little like a balafon. When I play the bass, the influence of the balafon can be heard a little.

We Europeans often admire the complex rhythms in African music. How do you work with this phenomenon?

Rhythms in African music aren’t complicated, even if people often think so. I was born in Africa. When I was a toddler, my granddad used to play these rhythms and so did my mother. I have lived with them from birth and I don’t see them as complicated – it is natural for me. It’s like when you take a little child and teach them to fish. In twenty years he will be a great fisherman.

I would guess that particularly in jazz this mastery of rhythms is useful …

Yes, of course. But there is one more important thing. What always helps most in music is your effort. You can play the balafon or the violin, but above all you have to work on yourself, you have to exercise regularly. Only if you specifically and regularly improve do you get the result. If you don’t work at it then it won’t help you. This is true for jazz, classical or traditional music. If you don’t practice regularly, then nothing will help you.

When did you decide that you were going to be a professional musician?

On a professional level? I have been a professional ever since my childhood. I always earned a living from playing music, never doing anything else. I played from the age of five and already then I was getting money for it. In fact I can’t remember it being otherwise. Truly form my earliest childhood music was my profession.

You are doing well in the jazz world, playing African and Cuban music. Does there exist for you some kind of link that would connect all these genres for you?

All of it is music that I love. Just now we are starting to work on a flamenco project in which I will work with the music of southern Spain. I see myself as an eternal music student. I savour those moments when I learn something new. For me there is only one kind of music and that is good music, that which affects my heart. If some kind of music affects my heart then I am happy to play it.

How do you choose guests for your albums? For example John Legend and Susheela Raman sang on your album Tiki from 2006.

Chance plays a role here. Of course I pick characters who play or sing well and whose music appeals to me. Sometimes I write a piece and immediately I an idea as to who might interpret it for me, which singer or guitarist it would suit. It always has to have some kind of logic. For example I would not invite Stevie Wonder to take part in a flamenco project.

Have any of your guests on your albums surprised you?

A moment ago you mentioned John Legend. I wanted to send him the piece in advance but he didn’t want it. He claimed he didn’t want to hear it beforehand and that he would come straight to the studio and write the text on the spot. It seemed a bit hit and miss to me because it takes some for me to write good lyrics. Yes, I can also come to the studio and immediately play a new song, but not write the lyrics. And he came and he really did think up the text in the space of a moment. So yes, that was a surprise for me. And a good one.

On your albums you sing in French and also in Duala. Do you choose the language according to the theme or otherwise?

In music I don’t calculate. From the start of my career I tried to sing in my native language, to show my roots. But I am not planning on singing in African languages in the future. They are languages which not even Africans speak any more. Why defend cultural heritage if people aren’t interested? Today in Africa if you switch on the radio they are singing in the languages of the colonisers – French, English or Portuguese – but rarely in African languages. People are speaking these languages less and less. For that reason this year I decided myself that I will no longer sing in African languages.

And wouldn’t it be better to fight against the trend you describe?

But I wasn’t born to fight. I was born to live. What should I fight against? I want to live with other people in peace – I want to share with them. We have to accept certain realities that exist and come to terms with them.

Last year here in Brno you appeared with the group Mandekan Cubano and the album Heritage. What is it specifically in Cuban music that inspires you?

Cuban music has its roots in Africa. What do we call Cuban music today? It is a blend of music from Africa, Europe and even Asia, and of course of the original inhabitants of the Caribbean. These islands were already occupied when the Europeans arrived. In their music all these components are mixed together. Among other things the instruments used tell us a lot. In the traditional Cuban orchestra you can find the trumpet, originally a European military instrument. The piano also has its origins in Europe. The maracas are originally an Indian instrument while the conga and bongo were brought with them by African slaves. The label “Cuban music” is thus a simplification. We have to look at it more closely and then we can see how sophisticated it is. For that reason as well I called my project Heritage, because it is about the heritage of various cultures, about world heritage. The period of colonisation was difficult, but even in those tough times people played music and left it to us as our heritage.

You wrote most of the pieces on the album Heritage yourself, but you also chose one composition by Guillermo Rodriguez Fiffe. Why specifically by him?

I am used to working with emotions and I associate this composition with a concrete experience. When I first came to Cuba I went to one club to play in a jam session. And the first piece that I played there was this one. Already then I decided that one day I would record an album with Afro-Cuban music, and Bilongo had to be on it. Fifteen years later I have fulfilled that promise.

You have already mentioned that you will be working on a flamenco album. Can you tell us something more about it?

I am going to be meeting the musicians I will be working with for the first time tomorrow. I will be going for it to the airport. I can’t talk about the album yet as we haven’t had even one rehearsal. I love flamenco; I’ve been in Seville and in Jerez de la Frontera, where I prepared for this project. Once we have had at least a week’s intensive rehearsals with the band I will be able to say more. At the moment I don’t know the details but I believe it will be a good project. I have several of my compositions prepared, and there will also be some adapted works. First we will have to rehearse everything, come up with arrangements and find out how the group will work.

A short time ago on the river island Seguin not far from Meudon in the suburbs of Paris you opened the club and restaurant Nubia. I assume that musical production also takes place there …

Yes, music is played there every week from Thursday to Sunday. It works pretty much like my other club that I have in New York. I have already been completely independent as an artist for several years. I produce my albums myself, recording them in my home studio and I do not need a record company. I sell my albums myself after the concerts. And I set up these two clubs for this reason. Often artists in clubs in New York do not have good conditions. And even I did not want to be treated badly by club owners. One day I was complaining about this and Quincy Jones said to me: “Instead of complaining don’t you want to set up your own club?” It was clear that if I didn’t want to accept bad conditions I would have to set up my own business which would be fully under my control. I run my clubs in such a way that I would be satisfied with it myself. I feel much better being independent than if I were represented by a record company or an agency.

Last year in Brno you played with the group Mandekan Cubano, now you are coming with the Richard Bona Group. What will we hear?

There will be something from the album Heritage, and something from older albums. I’ve recorded eight discs and I think there will be something from each of them. Our current tour begins in China, we will play in Singapore and in other Asian countries and then we will move on to you to Europe.

Photo © Adam Hart

Comments

Reply

No comment added yet..

A fateful comedy, the third part of a musical trilogy or a fantasy musical. These attributes define Paradise, a new authorial piece from the workshop of Zdenek Merta and Stanislav Moša. Their ninth joint work in the field of music theatre was premiered yesterday on the big stage of the Brno City Theatre. The result is embarrassing.  more

Director, librettist and stage designer David Radok and composer, but also chief conductor of the opera ensemble Marko Ivanović created the authorial work for the opera ensemble of the National Theatre Brno. The opera The Monument, which was premiered yesterday, tells the story of sculptor Otakar Švec (1892–1955), whose design in 1955 was a portent of Stalin's monument at Letná. The title roles in the Janáček Theatre were performed by: Stanislav Sem (Sculptor), Markéta Cukrová (Wife), Roman Hoza (Colleague) and Ondřej Koplík (Minister of Culture). The solo parts were complemented by the Opera Choir, the Czech Academic Choir and the Brno Children's Choir. The Janáček Opera Orchestra was directed by the author of the music Marko Ivanović.  more

On the next day after the powerful experience I had gotten from the performance of Requiem by the Armenian composer Tigran Mansurian, I had the opportunity to meet its creator. The fragile, gentle and sincere music thus foreshadowed me of its author, with whom I spent a few precious moments in the director's lounge of the Besední dům in Brno in a very friendly conversation.  more

If a band releases a new album after ten years and calls it Dej si čas [Take Your Time], it sounds like a pleasant self-irony. But what is ten years against delays of other bands, whose fans had to wait for new albums for eighteen (AG Flek) or even thirty years (Progres 2). For Mošny, it was said that the new album started to emerge a few years ago, but the group wanted to include some brand new songs, which they needed to rehearse and finish.  more

That evening was not only festive, with an extraordinary list of performers, but especially from many points of view valuable and significant. The bright and shiny ballet gala show of the ensemble of the National Theatre Brno showed many important things at the Janáček Theatre yesterday. On the one hand, the gala concert celebrated the respectable one hundred years' anniversary of the ballet ensemble in Brno, and on the other hand also presented the city as a respected focal point of dance art, where the greatest stars of these days do not hesitate to arrive. And in this first-league competition, the domestic ensemble was successful in its match with the European best and brightest. If you add to this the truly storming and crowded auditorium of the Janáček Opera, meaning more than a thousand satisfied spectators, the above-mentioned artistic gains are accomplished.  more

Several years ago, a miracle happened to Jura Hradil. This devotee of the electronic nu jazz alternative came to the hilly Carpathian landscape somewhere on the border between Moravia and Slovakia and heard a song, firstly one, then two, then hundreds. It wasn't a blurry echo of old times, but the bright tone of a Horňácko song.  more

Originally, it was supposed to be the third part of the YM project, in which the individual members of the group Květy make records of their solo albums of different genres, and their colleagues from the band accompany them. After Lorenzovi hoši [Lorenzo´s Boys] by Martin Kyšperský in country style and after the electronic Japonec [The Japanese Guy] by Aleš Pilgr, Ondřej Kyas´s Solárium [The Sunbed] was hard to classify concerning its genre category. As a solo record, with only an episode contribution by Aleš Pilgr and without any playing participation of Martin Kyšperský.  more

The small Ponava music club has been renowned in Brno last several years for its very high quality music production. Here and there, its diverse programme also features folklore projects. On Thursday, a duo of the well-known multi-instrumentalist Marian Friedl and the Lachian vocalist Sabrina Pasičnyk performed on this stage.  more

While trumpeter Jiří Kotača is known to the Brno jazz audience mainly as the bandmaster of the progressive big band Cotatcha Orchestra, on his first CD he presents himself with a different formation. He had met the Swedish guitarist Alf Carlsson during his studies in the Netherlands, and then they met up again and founded their band during Alf's tourist trip to the Czech Republic. Then they invited two very talented Slovak players to a joint trip for music, drummer Kristián Kuruc and double bass player Peter Korman, who is a member of Kotača's big band. This international formation plays Kotača's and Carlsson's original compositions and gets more or less inspired by Moravian, Slovak and above all Scandinavian folklore. The album was given the name Journeys, because journeys – to music, to knowledge and to the heart of souls – are what the life of not only this band revolves around.  more

With the return to the Janáček Theatre after three years and with the first foreshadowing of the upcoming celebrations of the 250th anniversary of Ludwig van Beethoven's birth, the Brno Philharmonic entered the new year with its traditional, already the 65th New Year concert in history. For this occasion, it chose a programme truly magnificent and appropriate, crowned by the European-famous Ode to Joy. The whole gala evening took place under the baton of Chief Conductor Dennis Russell Davies.  more

Two sold-out concerts launched on Saturday filled-up the hall of the Koruna cinema in Břeclav, where the Národopisný soubor Břeclavan [Břeclavan Ethnographic Ensemble] celebrated its 65th anniversary and joined thus the series of jubilee folklore ensembles this year. The afternoon concert had to be eventually added because of the huge audience acclaim, which only confirms that in South Moravia folklore is still widely known and enjoys unremitting popularity.  more

The Prophet and the Wind is a multi-genre performance by flute player Martina Komínková. She created it in Italy and after its Italian premiere it will be presented in Brno for the first time. The Czech premiere will take place at Brno's Divadlo na Orlí Theatre on Sunday 3 November. The evening show starting at 7:00 pm is already sold out, but you can still buy tickets for the afternoon performance scheduled at 2:00 pm.  more

In the premises of the neo-Gothic Czech Brethren Evangelical Church of J. A. Comenius, on the fifth evening of the Moravian Autumn festival, a performance of sacred music for choir and organ took place. In addition to the choir of the same name, Martinů Voices was also dominated by the organist Linda Sítková and a four-member ensemble of French horns. All this under the direction of choirmaster Lukáš Vasilek.  more

The third event of this year's Moravian Autumn festival was transferred to a theatre stage. The event was made happen by Terén, which is a platform acting as a third stage of the Centre of Experimental Theatre, right after the Goose on a String and HaDivadlo theatres. And it was on this particular stage of the Goose on a String where the world premiere of a stage production of Oedipus by André Gide took place yesterday. Composer Bohuslav Martinů stands behind its equally important incidental music.  more

The jubilee 50th Moravian Autumn music festival started yesterday at Bobycentrum in Brno with a concert performance of the minimalist opera Einstein on the Beach by composer Philip Glass and director Robert Wilson. The concert version was created by collaboration of visual artist Germaine Kruip, Suzanne Vega and Ictus Ensemble and Collegium Vocale Gent. Although only the music remained from the previously stage show, the length of the concert itself was comparable with the opera work. Hence, the evening lasted almost four hours.  more

Editorial

Representatives of the Slovak reggae and ska scene Polemic and Medial Banana are preparing a joint birthday concert in the Fléda club. The Brno concert is one of only two performances in the Czech Republic. The interconnection of these two bands started with their anthem Staré časy [Old Times], which they presented together at the Uprising festival. The concert will also feature new songs from the upcoming albums of the two formations.   more

The Vox Iuvenalis choir of the Brno University of Technology announces an audition for new members. Positions are to be filled in all voice groups.   more

The Balladine Dance School in Brno will open a summer semester of dance courses for children and adults in February.  more

Yesterday, the 19th season of the JazzFestBrno international music festival presented its complete programme of the main part of the festival. Already published names such as Lizz Wright, Joshua Redman Quartet and Pat Metheny have now been expanded by French trumpeter Erik Truffaz, American pianist Jason Moran or British saxophonist Nubya Garcia, who will perform in Czech premiére in Brno. This year's season promises a total of 23 concerts during 16 music evenings. The festival runs from 15 March to 9 June 2020.  more

The Brno band Plum Dumplings is preparing to release their new album Jiný místo [Another place] in the Kabinet Múz. As a guest, Kittchen will appear.  more

The management of the Brno Philharmonic has announced a tender for orchestral practice in several instrument groups. The orchestral academy is prepared for the seasons 2020/2021 and 2021/2022, members of this academy will have the opportunity to perform in subscription chamber concerts of the Brno Philharmonic. The audition will take place in April 2020.  more

The acclaimed soprano Naděžda Kniplová died at the age of 87. Former soloist of the National Theatre and the State Opera in Prague, she also performed in the Brno Opera between 1959 and 1964.  more

The Ondráš Military Art Ensemble announces a selection procedure for the professional part of the ensemble, for the position of soloist in the music and singing group (violin) in the Orchestra of Folk Instruments.  more

In 2020, the Janáček Quartet launches a brand new cycle of chamber concerts, in which it also welcomes guests from the ranks of  chamber ensembles and soloists. Four concerts of this cycle are planned to take place in the newly reconstructed Janáček Hall of the Brno Conservatory. The opening concert of the cycle is dedicated to the founding member of the quartet Jiří Kratochvíl, who died on 3 January 2020.  more

The ballet ensemble of the National Theatre Brno celebrates 100 years since its foundation this season. On the occasion of this anniversary, the ensemble is preparing a gala concert at the Janáček Theatre, featuring dancers from major European ballet companies, as well as soloists of national theatres from Prague, Bratislava and Brno. Among the guest artists there are stars such as Diana Kosyreva, Natascha Mair, Philipp Stepin, Cesar Corrales and many others.  more