Bonga Kuenda, “Maiorais”, 2005.
Bonga - born José Adelino Barceló de Carvalho - is an Angolan singer who survived the chaos of the war years in his country while living abroad. Not that he wasn’t engaged: a record-setting track star, he was recruited to compete for the Portuguese, but used his professional travels to pass messages for the anti-colonial underground. When the authorities uncovered this double life, he gave up his athletic career and fled both Angola and Portugal for the Netherlands. It was there he recorded his first album Angola 72, a set of songs written in his native language, and quickly adopted by the revolutionary movement back home. The follow-up, Angola 74, also recorded while living underground in Europe, became another landmark album for the independence movement, appearing just as the “Carnation Revolution” in Portugal ended the colonial wars.
But even with Angola’s independence, Bonga remained abroad - living first in Paris, and then in 1988 returning to Lisbon. It was from Europe that he witnessed the tragedies of the post-independence wars. “I began my career as a protest singer. I criticized the Portuguese first, and then my own people. The people lost out in the end.”
After a long international career of what became known as World Music (“In Paris, people are starting to impose music on us that has nothing to do with us,” he said in the 90s), he has pursued a more nostalgic sound in recent years. This video would seem to recreate an aspect of his youth in Angola, where his father was a fisherman and played accordion in a band on the Ilha do Cabo, by the sea in Luanda. For Bonga, both musical and political awakening took place in a similar setting:
“Every evening, I joined the others in the turma, a group of young people who got together to dance and sing. We criticized society, we blamed the living conditions and the colonists’ denial of our culture. This is why our songs are so full of nostalgia, because our identity had been ridiculed for a long time. Often, the turma looked like a virtual demonstration, with adults coming in from outside who spoke Kimbundu better than we did and who introduced us to the traditional forms of music. The old people, especially, took part in these meetings. They taught us the tales and proverbs which illustrate the ancestral morality and spirituality. Sometimes they interrupted to put things right, to correct us when there were errors in the interpretation of a song.”
Here Bonga is the old man of his memories.