Bona fide bassist

Best known for his bass playing and mellifluous vocals, Richard Bona is adept at a wide range of other instruments.

Richard Bona_521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Richard Bona_521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
If musicians got awards for have a sunshiny view of life, Richard Bona’s mantelpiece would be groaning under the weight of many a statuette, medal, trophy or any other tangible form of kudo. “You know, I get up every morning and said thank you to nature,” says the 43-year-old Cameroon-born multiinstrumentalist who will front his quintet at the Performing Arts Center in Tel Aviv next Friday as part of Idan Raichel’s world music series.
While Bona is best known for his bass guitar playing and singularly mellifluous vocals, in fact he is adept at a wide range of instruments which, he says, helps to keep him fresh. “This morning, for instance, I spent an hour practicing on my bass, and then I moved to keyboards and then to flute. I don’t think I could spend more than, say, three hours a day on bass, but this way, I can do maybe eight hours of practicing a day. I like to vary things.”
He certainly does, and he gets to record and perform with a wide swath of artists, including jazzoriented guitarist Mike Stern, with whom Bona played at the 2008 Red Sea Jazz Festival in Eilat, multi- Grammy Award-winner R&B and soul vocalist John Legend, stellar guitarist Pat Metheny, veteran singer-actor Harry Belafonte and legendary conductor-producercomposer Quincy Jones, to mention but a few.
In fact, two days after the interview Bona was due to play a concert with 77-year-old Jones in China, which prompted a salient point. “I’ve had all these people telling me not to go to Israel, and saying all these bad things about Israel,” says Bona. “I don’t care about that stuff. You could say the same thing about playing a gig in China, but I’m not into politics and negative things. All I care about is love, music and being happy. Life’s too short, man.”
Judging by his accomplishments to date, Bona indeed appears to be keen to make the most of his terrestrial time. Mind you, at least in artistic terms, he had a good start to life, even if the material side could have been better. He was born in the small village of Minta in East Cameroon and grew up in a home filled with music. He began to perform in public at the age of five, singing in the village church with his mother and four sisters, and his granddad wasn’t a bad singer either. His earliest instruments were wooden flutes and various hand percussion instruments, and he started playing the balafon – a wooden xylophone – at the age of four. Later he built his own 12-string acoustic guitar.
“That’s what people do when they don’t have much money,” Bona states simply. “It’s called survival and adapting. You get hold of what you need and you get on with things. No one taught me how to sing or play. Where I come from you, just jump in and do it.”
Bona also says that crafting his own guitar gave him intimate knowledge of the instrument and greater insight into how to make music. “I know the guitar inside and out. It gives you a different approach. You have a concept of the inner workings of the instrument, you know it from the inside. I understand the resonance and the depth of the sound the guitar can give me. I know it through and through.”
So there are blessings to be had from poverty. “I lived in a village with 20 houses and no music stores. If I had been born here, in New York, I would have just gone down to a music store on 48th street and bought what I needed. It’s a different world.”
With eight albums, as leader, released in the last 12 years and umpteen projects running simultaneously across the globe, we are indeed fortunate to get Bona on a stage here for a couple of hours when, no doubt, he will enrich the audience’s life with his lyrically rhythmical musical magic and his unstinting bonhomie.
Richard Bona (bass guitar and vocals) and his band, of Tatum Greenblatt (trumpet), Etienne Stadjick (keyboards), Adam Stoler (guitar) and Ernesto Simpson (drums), will appear at the Performing Arts Center in Tel Aviv tonight at 9 p.m. For tickets and more information: (03) 692-777 and