Richard Bona is one of those artists whose musicianship is hard to classify. He’s a bassist that can be found playing with some of jazz’s heaviest hitters, yet this Camoroonian artist can also bring his roots with him to different styles of music (jazz, funk, fusion, soul, blues). If that wasn’t enough, he’s also a soulful singer. For this performance he’s joined by fellow African musicians Gerald Toto (Martinique) and Lokua Kanza (Congo) to reprise 2005’s wonderful but somewhat overlooked Toto Bona Lokua. The album sparkled with three-part harmonies and subtle musicianship that was closer to Bobby McFerrin’s music than that of African pop. Part of Bona’s five-date residency at the 2007 Montreal Jazz Festival, this performance was the trio’s North American debut and it didn’t disappoint.
Bona came out with his trio (bass, keyboard, drums) performed a soulful jazz song before he invited Toto and Lokua to the stage. Each a singer, songwriter and musician in his own right, the trio of singers where were sort of like an African hootenanny where each was allowed to shine. Nonetheless, highlights often came when the three intertwined vocal melodies, lyrics, tongue clicks and other oral percussion techniques. Happily, Bona’s band often stepped aside or quietly underpinned the singers’ voices, leaving plenty of room for extemporaneous flights of vocal fancy. The vibe was loose and playful with plenty of crowd interaction (there was a strong African contingent in the audience), but once the songs began it was clear that the singers were bent on making great music together.
Most all-star bands seem to be overblown or haphazard one-offs, yet this night, like the original album, played against stereotype. With each artist having their own busy career, it’s hard to get schedules to sync up. But hopefully this will become a special ongoing project that it so richly deserves to be.