(Times Square, 2004)

Bonga is a singer-songwriter from Angola, born in 1943. He was Portugal's 400-meter running champion until he quit running to become a musician. After unfortunate experiences with producers in Lisbon in the mid-1980s ("They tried to make me into the African Julio Iglesias," he said), he is once again recording outside of his native country, this time in Paris.

Bonga accompanies himself on the dikanza, a grooved piece of bamboo scraped by a stick, and the puita, a friction drum. His band accompanies him with acoustic guitar, along with occasional accordion and muted bass and percussion. The guitar gives a very Spanish sound to the songs, although Bonga's raspy voice would be unique in any language. In addition, the musicians and two women sometimes sing backup in the style of an African chorus.

All of the 14 songs are written by Bonga (three are adaptations of traditional ones). The lyrics are quite meaningful. In fact, there is a moral or lesson for some of the songs printed in the CD booklet. Unfortunately, the lyrics are translated into French, but not English. Non-Portuguese and non-French speakers are missing a lot here, although Bonga's music is still enjoyable and rhythmic. It is a mixture of dance music and ballads, with influences that include semba, a precursor to Brazilian samba.

Bonga's lyrics are not limited to the traditional tales of lost love. They also remind the listeners of the pain of people long exiled from their native land. "I often think of you young, / Of us, of Angola, / And of the time passing...," he sings in "Kianje." And in "Nucos da buala," he speaks to the young street toughs, showing off their scars: "Far from the warmth of Angola, I hear you." He has some hard words to say to the people of Angola: "Strangers stole our land ... but war? No!" And a tender song for his son: "Don't go out, sleep / And I'll see you tomorrow / If you don't go out."

There is great beauty in Kaxexe, as well as sadness and violence. It is a highly recommended window into another world.

- Rambles
written by Dave & Laura Howell
published 11 September 2004

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