5. Angola — ‘Angola 72’ by Bonga

The musician Bonga published his first album in 1972, and it is titled after that year and his country, Angola. I didn’t know much about Angola, and it has been interesting to read some of its troubled history, similar to other former European colonies.

If you’re interested, there’s quite a lot of information on Bonga available online — although he was up to last week unknown to me, he seems to be the most celebrated figure in Angolan music, and he has even been given the “Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters” by the French government. Bonga had to flee his country — he was a supporter of Independence at a time when Angola was still a Portuguese colony — and lived in Portugal, France, Germany and Belgium, trying to hide, as an arrest warrant had been issued because of some of his political lyrics.

Listening to the album has been interesting. I’ve spent three weeks on it, on and off, listening to it almost every day. It’s taken me a while to enjoy it — even now, I can’t honestly say it’s an album I’ll remember a few years from now. It reminds me of the music that Milton Nascimento was doing around the same time, but that may say more of my musical ignorance than to his musical style.

I imagine the listening experience has been also marked by Bonga’s story — him being very vocal on social and political issues, fleeing the country, the eventual Angonal independence, etc. Once you know this, even if you don’t understand the language, it becomes clear that there is a certain melancholy throughout the album— although most of the music is quite upbeat, there is a certain subtle sadness underneath.

My favourite tracks in the album are the instrumental ‘Mu Nhango’ — which to me sounds very contemporary, almost like something you’d find in an album by Caribou or Four Tet but without the electronic bits — and ‘Paxi Ni Ngongo’ — which has some beautiful vocal harmonies.

This album is available on Spotify as ‘Angola 72–74’, a compilation of his first two albums. He’s done plenty since then: his latest single (as of November 2020) is a duet with Camélia Jordana.