You see it in all fields of life, from dancing to gardening and from surgery to football: some people are born with a gift, others with steely determination. The great have both.
Whatever Richard Bona’s determination quotient, the New York-based Cameroonian was certainly born to make music. Tunes and rhythms would have oozed from his pores or inhabited his breath had he never learnt to play or sing.
However, he did, turning himself into a virtuoso bass guitarist and extraordinary singer. His gift is further evidenced by a command of percussion, guitar, keyboards, balafon and even saxophone, any of which may have been his main game had the wind blown from a different direction in his youth.
So making music is easy for Bona. You heard it in the unforced nature of his compositions, the fluency of bass playing, and perhaps above all in his singing, especially when he slid into his falsetto range. Most males venturing into that pitch zone sound either pinched or overly sweet. Bona’s falsetto, variously reminiscent of a muted trumpet or a soprano saxophone, was as organic as his chest voice.
Meanwhile, his material was a constant dialogue between the lilting Cameroonian music with which he grew up, fearsome funk, snappy Latin and lithe jazz grooves. Everything was infused with a big heart and an entertainer’s flair.
However, despite all these qualities, this was a very good concert rather than a great one.
Still with him from his last visit were keyboards player Etienne Stadwijk (Netherlands) and trumpeter Tatum Greenblatt (US), joined by guitarist Adam Stoler (US) and drummer Ludwig Afonso (Cuba). All were excellent players, and yet they did not quite reach that elevated plane on which Bona operates. The music continually promised more than it quite delivered, not aided by a sound mix in which the guitar and sometimes even Bona’s voice were buried. The highlights were two pieces he performed alone, the purity of his musical instincts then on unclouded display.
– John Shand