Richard Bona and Mandekan Cubano
With his combo Mandekan Cubano, bassist and bandleader Richard Bona connects the rhythmic spirit of Africa to the island of Cuba. Hailed by many as “The African Sting,” Bona has entranced audiences for decades with his dazzling melodic bass playing and voice, connecting jazz and pop to the traditional sounds of his home continent.
Born Bona Pinder Yayumayalolo in Minta, Cameroon, in 1967, Bona grew up surrounded by music, with his griot grandfather playing percussion instruments and his grandmother singing. Bona himself began constructing his own flutes and guitars as a young person, utilizing whatever materials were at hand to create tools for making sound; in doing so, he tapped into an inventiveness that would later define his multi-layered, poly-cultural compositions. When he wanted a 12-string guitar, he made one himself, scrounging up wood and stringing it with bicycle brake cables. Before mastering the bass, he took to the balafon, a wooden xylophone originating in Mali.
Across his career, Bona has drawn inspiration from his African roots. On albums like Scenes from My Life, Reverence, and Munia, the bassist and songwriter utilizes storytelling to share stories of daily life and political struggle, combining those tales with musical innovation. His work has earned him a series of high-profile accolades. Following the release of his album The Ten Shades of Blues in 2009, Bona was honored with the Antônio Carlos Jobim Award at the Montreal International Jazz Festival; his 2013 album, Bonafied, was certified gold.
Having played with everyone from Harry Connick, Jr. and Paul Simon to Herbie Hancock, George Benson, Bobby McFarrin, and Tito Puente, Bona charts fresh territory as a singer, player, and bandleader with his new project, Mandekan Cubano. Featuring pianist Osmany Paredes, trombonist Rey Alexandre, trumpeter Dennis Hernandez, and percussionists Luisito and Roberto Quintero, the combo’s 2016 album Heritage combines Bona’s joyful, Jaco Pastorius–inspired melodicism with Cuban dance rhythms and instrumentation. The record speaks to a musical mission of bridging cultures. “There’s so much Africa in this music that it doesn’t feel strange to us Africans,” Bona told BassPlayer.com. “When we play this music, it’s natural.”