It’s been six or seven years since Richard Bona, “The African Sting,” fronted his own band at Seattle’s famed Jazz Alley. What a way to make a comeback: He’s with Mandekan Cubano, a band he's performed live with on many occasions. They're off on a major U.S. tour this month to celebrate their first new album, Heritage, a proper, righteous return to their combined Afro-Cuban roots.
Bona and six-piece Mandekan Cubano perform Sept. 20-21. Shows start at 7:30 p.m.
Bona’s eighth album Heritage comes out in the U.S. this Friday, Sept. 12, and has the bassist, vocalist, and composer combining his West African roots with Mandekan Cubano’s — back to where it all started, right into the 15th century of the Mandekan Empire, before slavery and colonization ruined everything and tore apart Sundiata’s kingdom into many parts.
Bona and Mandekan Cubana’s new music sheds light on Africa’s rhythmic influences in Cuba, while naturally bringing up important issues of hardship on diversity in the arts.
Expect high energy, in-depth music, Afro-Cuban rhythms, scintillating beats, and a celebration of diversity from the farthest regions as only a charismatic Bona can deliver — with a Cuban band steeped in original authenticity.
Bona fills seats and compels movement. He goes deeper and higher than required, in order to convey the spirit and soul of the music he came from and that moves him — all without dropping perfect melody, catchy hooks, and a dance feel that audiences love the world over.
AXS caught up with Richard Bona before his Monterey Jazz Festival appearance and CD release this Friday to get his take on the new album, the band he’s playing with, and a return to their Afro-Cuban roots.
AXS: Why is this album, Heritage, and playing with the Mandekan Cubano band so important to you?
Richard Bona: It’s so important, because it’s a bridge between cultures. We explore the African, European, and Asian influence in Cuba and that alone is a beautiful thing that needs to be appreciated. The music helps us to find our common ground and to share in that while still appreciating our differences.
AXS: What does the Mandekan Cubano band lend to the new album that was a delight for you?
RB: Because we are all very different people, we are all able to bring something different to the table. None of us play or think the same way, so it just adds an extra flavor that diversity always brings. The guys are all extremely knowledgeable about the music and have years of experience that shines throughout the record. But as different as we all may be, we have a common point of reference that helps us to achieve a cohesive sound.
AXS: You go way back to explore the true original roots of Cuban music, back to the 15th century. How is this music different from the music people associate with Cuban music today?
RB: I go back to the roots, because I believe the true original Cuban music should get the full respect and acknowledgment it deserves! I mean, it gave birth to the Cuban music that we know today, and without it, we wouldn’t know how it all started. What people associate as Afro-Cuban widely varies because of new influences and adaptations over the years. Every derivation of the style has a special component, but I’m just trying to put things back into place! Afro-Cuban is the real deal!!
AXS: One of the stops in your U.S. tour is Seattle’s Jazz Alley, next week. What are you looking forward to in playing this club?
RB: Oh man, pure and simple fun! I used to play at the Jazz Alley almost every year when I was in town, but I haven’t been back in six or seven years. I absolutely can’t wait to get back with the Seattle crowd (one of my favorites) and into the swing of things.