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Richard Bona The Ten Shades of Blues Review

Album. Released 2009.  

BBC Review

Perfectly packaged and enormously enjoyable.

Lara Bellini 2009

As writer Amiri Baraka once said: “Blues playing is the closest imitation of the human voice of any music I’ve heard”. By the same token Richard Bona’s new release, tracing a vestige of the genre in different world cultures, reiterates the same concept: wherever there is humanity, there is the blues.

This album is not some philological essay on the blues scale as its title might suggest, rather a journey revolving around the blues perceived as ‘a feeling’. Under such auspices he gathers worldwide musicians to help shape his signature fusion of musical heritages: this time from India, his native Cameroon and adoptive US.

The geography of Bona’s inspiration is not new. John Coltrane looked to Africa and India to build a vocabulary beyond the western notational discourse, closer to his need for vocalised expression – which makes jazz so deeply indebted to blues. Joe Zawinul (with whom Bona collaborated during the Syndicate years, and to whom this project is in part indebted) played a pioneering role in fusing elements of jazz and worldwide music.

Each tune breeds a carnival of musical quotations. Gluing it all together is Bona’s silky, deeply intense voice – centre stage from the start in the a cappella opener Take One – and his talent as bassist and multi instrumentalist.

Shiva Mantra, an Indian born and bred track, is lightly infused with African and bluesy insertions. Kurumalete is perhaps the tune that owes most to Zawinul, both timbre wise and through its hectic rollercoaster of cultural quotations, while with African Cowboy Bona is back to a closer offspring of the pentatonic scale, country music. It’s an African rendition, Bona singing in Duala, perhaps to remind us that the banjo, after all, comes from the ngoni lute. The only traditionally recognisable blues number on the whole album is Yara’s Blues.

Above all, the Motherland is still the real protagonist, as a direct influence (Souleymane, Sona Moyo, Camer Secrets) and in Bona’s native Duala. Like with Bona’s previous releases Tiki and Munia: The Tale, The Ten Shades of Blues is a boundary-crashing work, perfectly packaged and enormously enjoyable.

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