Magazine article African Business

Spirit of the People: The Hour of the Elders

Magazine article African Business

Spirit of the People: The Hour of the Elders

Article excerpt

To describe Bonga as a prolific artist is perhaps an understatement. This is the singer's 30th album and features 11 superbly constructed songs plus two bonus tracks.

Born Jose Adelino Barcelo de Carvalho in Kipri, an outlying suburb of Luanda in Portuguese-ruled Angola in 1943, to an Angolan father and Congolese mother, he changed his name to Bonga Kuenda when he joined his father's band. His father was both a fisherman and accordionist, playing rebita, the music of the Ilha de Cabo fishermen.

Still a teenager, Bonga went on to found his own band that he named Kissueia, meaning 'misery of the slums' in Kimbundu, Angola's most widely spoken African language. From the outset the band drew on traditional African culture and anticolonialist sentiments.

Having shown early promise as an athlete-being Portugal's champion runner in the 400 metres-he moved to Portugal's capital and joined Lisbon's Benfica football club-and also the outlawed Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) party. This inevitably led to unwelcome attention from the Portuguese authorities that were brutally suppressing calls for Angola's independence.


Bonga had to flee the Portuguese secret police in 1966, going into exile from Lisbon to Rotterdam home to a large Lusophone Cape Verdean community. In Holland, Bonga was forced to give up his sporting ambitions, so turned his attention full time to music.

Classic Lusophone blues

He possesses a deep, gravelthroated, instantly recognisable vocal style. ft is, paradoxically, despite being so earthy, able to provide an incredibly sensitive delivery, full of passion and emotion.

His achingly powerful Angola 72 album was an early hit, and his ballad 'Mona Ki Ngi Xica' of the same year is still considered a classic of Lusophone African blues. Bonga also composed 'Sodade' in 1972, a song that the late, great Cape Verdean diva Cesaria Evora went on to have a huge international hit with. …

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