Twelve years after the trio’s debut album Totobonalokua, new record Bondeko reunites French-Creole Gerald Toto, Cameroon’s Richard Bona and Lokua Kanza of the Democratic Republic of Congo for a luminous album.
Opening track ‘Ma Mama‘ begins with playful whistling that repeats throughout the record, reminding me of cheery opening credits to a film. It feels a positive track to be listening to in a January that needs way more sunshine. As it progresses, choruses of “Ma Mama” add to the subtle upbeat atmosphere. The song, composed by Gerald Toto, talks about the love that unites two people over decades, and the man calls his wife Ma Mama because she represents the family’s lynchpin.
Standout tracks are ‘Naleki‘ and ‘Tann Tanbou A‘. They share common features of layered beats, percussion, harmonies and strings to achieve tracks that are chilled yet up-tempo, complex but accessible and the most danceable on the album. Composed by Lokua Kanza, ‘Naleki‘ references a Congolese rumba but different; it doesn’t use classical rumba chords. It’s a love song, a break up song, talking about the beautiful moments of a relationship and saying I will never forget all the good you’ve done for me. Toto’s ‘Tann Tanbou A‘ is about how important it is to preserve the drum everywhere in the world. It’s an essential marker of celebration.
Fittingly, with love in many forms a central theme of the record, its title translates as ‘friendship’ or ‘fraternity’ in the Congolese language of Lingala, one of the many dialects spoken by this multicultural trio.
I’m feeling distinctly monolingual as I learn more about the artists. Lokua Kanza began his career playing in rumba bands and has a conservatoire training. Over half a dozen solo albums, he sings variously in Swahili and Lingala, as well as in French and English. In addition to recording his own atmospheric and experimental albums, Gerald Toto has worked with artists as diverse as the Algerian rai singer Faudel and Parisians Nouvelle Vague. Richard Bona is a virtuosic multi-instrumentalist whose 2005 solo album Tiki was nominated for a Grammy award and he’s collaborated with many of the world’s top stars from John Legend and Bobby McFerrin to Quincy Jones.
This record sounds like a collaboration. In a good way. It doesn’t feel like an established group’s latest album, as those three musical personalities, while they melt together, also stand distinct. There are layers upon layers of instruments, styles and sounds, not to mention languages. The love that inspired the album and the love that has been put into it are sewn into the sound, and it oozes warmth. I’d like to hear Bondeko performed at a summer festival, and until then I’ll listen during winter to pretend I’m at one.
Bondeko is released on 19th January through No Format.