Born: October 28, 1967 Primary Instrument: Bass, electric
Born in 1967 in the village of Minta in East Cameroon, Richard Bona 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. His earliest instruments were wooden flutes and hand percussion. Eventually he constructed his own 12-string acoustic guitar. After moving to the bigger city of Douala, Richard began playing gigs at the age of 11 on a rented electric guitar. A major turning point in his life happened in 1980 when a Frenchman came to his town and established a jazz club in a local hotel. The club owner heard about the young local prodigy and hired him to assemble a band. I didn't know anything about jazz, Richard says, but the gig paid really well, so I took it. The hotel provided the instruments, so Richard would spend his entire day there, learning to play all of the instruments and teaching himself to read and write music. The club owner also offered his collection of 500 jazz LPs as a kind of reference library for Bona to start learning the repertoire. Purely by chance, the first record he pulled out of the stacks was Jaco Pastorius, the revolutionary self-titled debut album from 1976 by the bassist from Weather Report. This single album became a kind of Rosetta Stone for Bona's entry into jazz. Before I heard Jaco I'd never even considered playing bass, he recalls. But when I heard that music, and especially the tune 'Portrait of Tracy,' it changed my life
In 1989, at age 22, Bona moved to Paris and soon began working with such leading French musicians as violinist Didier Lockwood and bassist Marc Ducret as well as such African stars as Manu Dibango and Salif Keita. During his seven years in Paris, Richard refined his writing skills while further immersing himself in the music of jazz greats like Miles Davis, Chet Baker and Ben Webster. After locating to New York late in 1995, he contacted former Weather Report founder Joe Zawinul, whom he had previously met and played with in Paris. Richard joined the Zawinul Syndicate, appearing on 1996's My People and following it up with a whirlwind international tour (documented on 1998's live World Tour). In 1997, Bona became the musical director for Harry Belafonte, a position he held for a year and a half. In 1998, Richard began a series of regular Tuesday night tributes to Jaco Pastorius in an intimate downtown New York club called the Izzy Bar. There he would intersperse Jaco classics like Liberty City, Continuum, Opus Pocus and Portrait of Tracy with his own roots-oriented African-flavored originals.
Imagine an artist with Jaco Pastorious's virtuosity, George Benson's vocal fluidity, Joao Gilberto's sense of song and harmony, all mixed up with African culture. Ladies and gentlemen, we bring you Richard Bona! -- Los Angeles Times