Richard Bona is in town for the 11th edition of the Johnnie Walker Jazz Safari. caught up with him to talk about his music, sound and of course performing in Uganda for the first time.
Bona Pinder Yayumayalo alias Richard Bona was born to a family of musicians in Minta, Cameroon.
Growing up with a grandfather who was a storyteller and percussionist, and a mother who was a singer, by the age of four, Bona had started playing the balafon (West African xylophone) and a year later he was already performing at a local church.
At the age of 22, Bona migrated to Germany for music studies and later relocated to France before eventually moving to the US.
Today, Bona is mostly revered for his skills on the Bass, which he delivers in his music with an Afro-Cuban flavour. He has played the Bass for artistes such as Joe Zawinul, Steve Gadd, George Benson and Chaka Khan, among others.
You started out in Cameroon, studied in Germany, worked in France and later the US, how have these four countries influenced your sound?
Each of these countries have different sounds and cultures, but that helped me define my sound. I am able to play different styles of music because I learned each of those cultures.
Working in France is a dream of many African artistes and yet after you worked there for some time, moved to the US. How come?
It helped me grow as an artiste, be on the scene in New York city, and meet incredible musicians and collaborators.
Most African acts that have made it in Europe or the US have had challenges, with promoters saying their sound is ‘too African’. How did you end up so successful?
Probably because I immersed myself in different cultures, learned the music there, and did not forget my African roots.
Besides the upcoming Johnnie Walker Jazz Safari in Uganda, what else is happening in your musical life these days?
Many things. I am working on two albums, a film score, I opened up Club Bonafide a couple of years ago in New York, and I just opened up my new club, Nubia, in Paris.
Your music incorporates fusions from Africa, a bit of funk and soul… yet you are continuously referred to as a Jazz artiste. Does it ever feel like you are being boxed?
People like to categorise artistes by genres, which I believe is a mistake. I do not consider myself a jazz musician, but there is definitely jazz influence in my music.
Between jazz and all the different sounds in your music, which one defines you most?
I cannot define my music. It is too eclectic!
You have been performing since you were a child, which mode is music to you; an expression or a communication mode?
Both. I use music to communicate and to express what I feel. I am honoured it resonates with some people.
In the past you have collaborated both in studio and on stage, why are these collaborations vital?
I am always learning and always willing to learn. Collaborations are needed for one to grow.
Your album Heritage was released in 2016 almost 15 years after Scenes From My Life, in the age of digital influence, auto-tune and growth of electronic music. How has the process of production been influenced or changed for artistes like you?
I still record everything with the same console I bought years ago. Of course, computers make it easier to record, but it is the same process when it comes to sound, and I am very particular about the sound.
You are performing in Uganda for the first time, how have you psychologically prepared for the Kampala audience?
We are ready to party in Uganda!
What should the Ugandan audience expect from you?
Fun and joy.