Faithful to Study of Life, Faithful to Music

Richard Bona Photo: COVI/Scanpix
5/3/2011 10:20 AM
Category: Culture

Cameroonian Richard Bona is currently one of the most internationally celebrated jazz bassists and vocalists. Bona was one of the performers chosen for the finale of Tallinn's Jazzkaar on April 30. This is the conversation ERR News held with him some minutes before his concert.


Your last album is titled “The Ten Shades of Blues.” Sounds like you're trying to find different approaches to the blues scenario...

Well, my aim was to do with how sophisticated the world of blues is and how diverse it can be. People often think blues only belongs to Africa, but that's not true, because you can listen to it in every place in the world. You can hear blues in Irish music, in Indian music, in flamenco, in gipsy music... I think it's one of the most diverse forms of music because blues is everywhere. I wanted to make a record about it and that's why I went to India, Africa, Nashville, to show people how sophisticated and diverse blues is.


So I guess there has been a lot of research behind that last album.

There has been research in terms of traveling, because I don't need the kind of research a scientist would do. My own research is to travel, meet people, listen and capture a frame or a sound.


Is traveling your way of working as a musician? Is this how you catch inspiration?

I'd say my way of working mostly arises from a will of learning. Because music for me is a study of life which never ends. I love that way and I want to keep going that way. Because I know that I don't know, the more I know, the less I know.


In Cameroon, you made your own instruments with your own hands. How important was that period for your career?

It was important. Actually, I was lucky I had to make my own instruments. I was born in a small village in Africa where you couldn't find any shops where to buy instruments. It's not like in Europe, where if you want an instrument you just get it. Where I lived, you had to make every instrument yourself. So, I grew up building instruments. And what building instruments gave me is a better understanding of the instrument in terms of its soul.


You've been living in Cameroon, Germany, France and the US. What did you learn in each one of these places?

Well, you always learn a lot. As I said, music is a study of life and every day is a process of learning new things for your music. All the musicians with whom I played either in France or in Africa or in Europe or in America, they all taught me something. That's the beauty about music and I was lucky to play with people like Herbie Hancock, Bobby McFerrin and John Legend. Everybody with whom I played always taught me something. And even younger musicians always teach me something new! Music is like watching an ocean where there's so much water and you can only take a glass of it. Anybody can teach you something. You just need to open your heart, to open your eyes and you'll see a lot of things to learn.


Besides playing music on stage, you also taught it at New York University. How did that go?

You should ask them! [Laughing.] Yes, in 2008 I was traveling a lot and I wanted to take some time off and just to stay in New York a little bit. I had the opportunity to teach at the university and that is the reason why I took that job. And I was very lucky to get to do it - everybody felt I was talented but at the same time they were trying to teach me new things. Afterwards, I've seen many of my 'kids' playing around town and they are very good. Actually, here in Tallinn I'm performing together with a guitar player who was at my class at New York University.


What will you play at your Tallinn Jazzkaar concert? Will the repertoire focus on your last album?

Well, tonight won't be only about the last CD. The band and I will play songs from all the CDs. We don't come to Tallinn every day, so I'd like to do songs from the other albums, not just the last one. We'll improvise too. It will be fun, all of it, and maybe we’ll even sing an Estonian song!


Interview by Edu Llado Vila