One of my favourite musicians is the bass player, singer and composer Richard Bona who is invigorating the international jazz scene with percussive rhythms and vibrant tonal colours. Born in 1967 in the remote village of Minta in Cameroon, Bona's journey from there to Paris and New York where he now owns the jazz club Bonafide and from where he tours the world, is remarkable. He tells us,“As a kid my dream started behind my house playing balafon all day long listening to nature and looking at the forest. I remember telling my friend (Fan Thomas) while looking at planes in the sky, ‘I will fly in one of those one day.’ He looked at me smiling and said, ‘You can’t even get to Yaounde (the capital).’ The young Bona fashioned his first ever guitar using bicycle brake cables for strings. His precocious musical talent was discovered by a French businessman in Douala who allowed him access to his collection of five hundred vinyl records, mostly jazz, and it seems that the first album Richard picked out was by Jaco Pastorius. In Paris, Manu Dibango took the fledgling jazzman under his wing and soon Bona had the confidence to fly solo. Americans stars like Mike Stern, Pat Metheny, Stevie Wonder and John Legend, with whom he has collaborated, appreciate his natural musicality and an unmistakable spirituality in his approach. When, in 2010, I attended his concert staged under the Monument de la Renaissance in Dakar during FESMAN, a major Pan African festival, Bona revealed himself to be a warm, jocular and witty performer making instant and easy contact with his audience. I never cease to be moved each time I watch 'Dina Lam', the piece he plays in episode 3 of 'The African Rock 'n' Roll Years', the BBC TV series I produced in 2005.
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