Bonga - Biography

Kuenda Bonga, known by his fans as Bonga, is a singer, songwriter and guitarist from Angola. His activities for Angola’s liberation movement forced him to flee the country in the late 60s. He lived in Rotterdam, Paris and London where he began recording songs with arrangements influenced by Angolan folk music, Brazilian samba, Spanish flamenco and other international styles. He’s made 17 original albums since 1972. He is well known in Europe and West Africa, but his popularity in the United States is mostly confined to world music aficionados.

José Adelino Barceló de Carvalho was born in Luanda, in the province of Bengo, and although he played guitar from an early age, he was fist set on becoming an athlete. He moved to Portugal where set the Portuguese record for the 400-meter run and played on Portugal’s Benfica (Lisbon) soccer team. As an athlete, he was allowed more freedom of travel than most Angolans and carried messages to exiled freedom fighters from rebels still in Angola. When he fell under suspicion, he fled to Rotterdam, then Paris and London. He began writing songs in the early 70s, and adopted his tribal name Bonga for his first internationally released album Angola 72 (1972 Playasound France, 1997 Lusafrica France). The acoustic singer/songwriter style album made him a star in Angola, although the political lyrics rankled authorities. A warrant for his arrest was issued in Angola. In Paris, he put together a backing band called Batuki, and toured the Cape Verdean communities of the New England; they also played at the United Nations to celebrate the independence of Guinea-Bissau, another former Portuguese colony.

Angola became independent just after Bonga released Angola 74 (1974 Playasound France, 1997 Lusafrica France), a jazzier album with hints of Brazilian music, Cape Verdean mourna and European pop. Unhappily, the country devolved into a bloody civil war which made it impractical for him to return home given the political nature of his lyrics, although they were more supportive of the travails of poor people than explicitly anti-government. The turmoil in Angola has kept Bonga in exile, with homes in France and Portugal. Still, his music, marked by poetic lyrics delivered in his warm baritone over understated tracks that blend Angolan semba (the root of Brazilian samba) and other Angolan rhythms with the music of Cape Verde, Portugal, Brazil and the Caribbean made him a star both at home and in Europe.

His albums include Angola 76 (1976 Morabeza France), Kandandu (1980 Chant du Monde France), Kualuka Kuetu (1983 Playasound France), Sentimento (1985 Chant du Monde France), Reflexão (1988 Discosette France), Malembe Malembe (1989 Discosette France), Diaka (1990 Discosette France), Pax Em Angola (1991 Rounder), Gerações (1992 Discosette France), Fogo na Kanjica (1994 Vidisco France), Swinga Swinga: The Voice of Angola 102% Live (1996 Piranha Germany), Roça de Jindungo (1997 Vidisco France), Falar de Assim (1999 Vidisco France), the Cuban influenced Mulemba Xangola (2001 Lusafrica France), Kaxexe (2003 Lusafrica France, 2004 Times Square), Maiorais (2006 Lusafrica France) and, Bairro (2009 Lusafrica France) hailed as one of his best, a pleasing mash up of semba, compas, cumbia and other styles marked by his smooth baritone vocals and a top notch band.

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