Bonga ‘Bairro’ (Lusafrica) 4/5

From the same label that introduced us to the sounds of Lura and more recently the earliest recordings of Cesaria Evora comes a new album from a legendary figure in Angolan music, but one who has strangely not caught on with a wider audience until now. Bonga has enjoyed a long and distinguished career and during the 1970s released two classic albums adored by African music cognoscenti: Bonga ‘72 and Bonga ‘74. However, he is equally well known in his native Angola as both a footballer (for the inimitable Benfica of Lisbon)and as a political activist as spokesman for the Angolan Liberation Movement or MPLA. In fact it was in this latter role that Bonga was forced to flee the dictatorship of Salazar and seek refuge first in Portugal and then in Paris. The latest album, fittingly recorded in Lisbon and Paris, is arguably his best in a couple of decades and what makes this music such a treat is the multiplicity of influences on offer. Bonga’s style is known as semba which in practice is a variation on the classic Brazilian samba, particularly with the use of the cavaquinho string instrument, and the lilting rhythms that accompany this genre. One of the albums highlights is the mournful ‘Kipiri’ which takes a leaf out of Cape Verdean morna while the opener and title track is a laid back blues-inflected burner of a song. In stark contrast the uptempo ‘Zukada’ with its gorgeous background harmonies is influenced by Antillean dance music, ‘Mana Minga’ by Congolese soukous and ‘Aguenda’ by traditional Brazilian samba. Perhaps strongest of all the faster tempos on ‘Bairro’ is the joyous accordeon-led ‘Makanisa’ which hints at Columbian vallenato. In sum Bonga’s singer-songwriter talents are admirably showcased here and the album from start to finish is both a listening and dancefloor treat.

Tim Stenhouse