Bonga | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader


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Angola's Jose Adelino Barcelo de Carvalho first achieved fame as a record-breaking track star on Portugal's national team. But while he was representing his country's colonizers athletically, he was also in discreet contact with various liberation organizations. When the Portuguese secret police, PIDE, identified him by his activist pseudonym, Bonga, in the early 70s, he fled to Rotterdam. He'd already led a band that celebrated Angolan identity back at home, but exile honed his political edge, and Bonga's debut, Angola 72, became something of a manifesto. It's also arguably the greatest album any musician from his country has ever made. Angola 72 was dominated by the traditional song form semba, a relative of Brazil's samba that's equally airy but more propulsive, with layers of percolating guitar, upper-register bass lines, and sharp hand percussion adorning the swift rhythms. Bonga also proved himself a master of morna, the Cape Verde ballad style that Cesaria Evora later made famous; his raspy cry captured the sad longing, or saudade, that defines the genre. With Angolan independence on the horizon Bonga recorded the wonderful Angola 74, a more international affair that employed musicians from Cape Verde and Guinea, and then moved to Paris, where he crafted a more cosmopolitan strain of Afropop. In 2000 Bonga, who now lives in Lisbon, returned to his roots for Mulemba Xangola (Lusafrica), his best release in decades. His voice has matured and roughened, and the melancholy ballads are balanced by celebratory upbeat material. He doesn't try anything new, but with a voice like his there's no reason to get fancy--which is why this easily eclipses his overproduced Paris recordings. Saturday, January 18, 7:30 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln; 773-728-6000.

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