Richard Bona: From a Cameroon mud-hut village kid to a virtuoso of the bass guitar

© Hertfelders, 2009.

© Hertfelders, 2009.

Richard Bona, whose real name is Bona Pinder Yayumayaolo, has now lived in skyscrapers and chateaus while performing in the cities of Douala, Moscow, Mumbai, New-York, Paris, Sydney, Yaoundé, etc. Life, however, hasn’t always been rosy for Bona. He grew up in a hut in Cameroon, ran for his life, with a panther at his heels, and trapped wild beasts in the forest for food.

Bona Meets Pastorious

Richard Bona was born in Minta a small village in Cameroon. As a kid, only the sound of the balafon could soothe him when he was sick, often with malaria. He inherited his musical genes from his grandfather who was a griot and a story teller, and his mother who was a singer. His grandfather helped him build his very first balafon, which he played for hours every day. By age five he was performing with a lot of ease, and could play several instruments, especially the flute, the hand percussion, drums etc. On Sundays, he performed at his village church.

When his family moved to the big city of Douala, Bona fell in love with the sound of the guitar. He thus built himself a 12-string using bicycle brake cables. Because he wasn’t from a wealthy family, he played in local bands to earn some cash. His talent got him noticed very quickly, as he was often invited to play at festivals and ceremonies. When a local hotel formed a jazz club, its owner sought out the wonder kid to put together a band. Bona, who knew nothing about jazz at the time, benefited from the hotel owner’s collection of over 500 records, which he spent days and nights listening to. This is how he discovered the 1976 Jaco Pastorius’ album, which changed his life forever. A decade later Bona would be hired to fill the legendary bass player’s shoes in Joe Zawinul’s band.

From Douala to New York

Bona migrated to Dusseldorf (Germany) in 1990 in order study music. He later moved to France where he played in various jazz clubs with famous artists such as Manu Dibango, Salif Keita, Jacques Higelin and Didier Lockwood. He now lives in New York where he has established himself as the ultimate music virtuoso. Throughout the 1990s Richard Bona’s musicianship and virtuosity became urban legend in New York and Paris, where he received the SACEM Grand Prix award in November 2012. Bona currently holds a musicology professorship at New York University.

Bona’s music makes your blood run faster; your hearts beat harder. His bass solos are wildly ingenious. His tunes combine African polyrhythms, harmonic virtuosity, with memorable, accessible melodies. His arrangements are almost symphonic, hypnotizing us with the unexpected colors of voices and instruments. He sings mostly in Duala, but whether you understand his lyrics or not, you’ll feel immersed in his music.

Bona has toured the world and recorded with A-List acts such as John Legend, Pat Metheny, Joe Zawinul, Harry Belafonte, Quincy Jones, Herbie Hancock, George Benson, Chick Corea, Steve Gadd, Michael Brecker, Randy Brecker, Chaka Khan, Shankar Mahadevan, Tito Puente, Chucho Valdès, Mike Stern, Larry Coryell, David Sanborn, Kenny Garrett, Joe Sample, Harry Connick Jr., Raul Midon, Billy Cobham, Queen Latifah, Branford Marsalis,

New Album: Bonafied was released in April 2013

New Album: Bonafied was released in April 2013

Bobby McFerrin, and Sadao Watanabe. Bona has released 8 albums, with the last one “Bonafied” just hitting the record stores last April. He has establishing himself as a singer-songwriter with a calming and soothing voice. His Afro-Caribbean project Toto Bona Lokua (with Gerald Toto and Kanza Lokua, Sunnyside, 2005) and his Afro-Cuban project Mandekan Cubano seeks to reunite the bits of African sounds and beats scattered around the world.

Information on tour dates and CD availability can be found at:

Read this story and others in the Cameroon Traveler Magazine online.

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