Born in Portuguese-ruled Angola, Barceló De Carvalho, a.k.a. Bonga Kwenda, had a Zairean mother and an Angolan father. He grew up in a musseque, a working class neighborhood of Luanda, the Angolan capital. His father played accordion to the local rebita rhythm, which was the beginning of Bonga's musical education.
After winning a 400 meter running championship as a teen, Bonga went on to become a much loved professional soccer player in the 1960s. During his professional career, he took advantage of his team's relative mobility and, while competing in Europe, he clandestinely passed on messages between Angolan freedom fighters living there.
But when he turned to music Bonga's opposition to Portugeuse colonial rule became much more blatant. His group, Kissueia, performed songs describing the hardship of life under Portuguese rule and proclaiming Angolan identity and independence. Angola's right wing Salazar regime soon forced Bonga into exile. He recorded Angola 72 in Holland that year - which was promptly banned by the authorities. Nevertheless, it was a wildly popular record in Angola and abroad, and became one of the classic Afropop recordings of the 1970sand so launched a long career as an expatriate singer whose heart was always pulling him homeward.
Bonga first performed in the United States in 1973, as part of mostly Lusaphone touring show put on to celebrate the recent independence of Guinea-Bissau. The following year, while he was at work on a new album, Angola 74 Salazar was overthrown in a military coup. The album captures the conflicting emotions of that time, and includes Bonga's version of the songs "Sodade," which would later be made famous by Cape Verdean diva Cesaria Evora. Bonga's music is an updated, contemporary take on the venerable Angolan sembathe African ancestor of Brazil's samba, and Bonga famously incorporates traditional instruments such as the dizanka, a traditional bamboo scraper, and the puita friction drum into his lineup.
Even after Angola won its independence, Bonga stayed in Paris and Lisbon, connecting with musicians from other Portuguese-speaking countries--Brazil, Mozambique, Cape Verde and Guinea Bissau, and recording Afropop albums. For many years Angola's most visible pop artist, Bonga sings in a gruff, melancholy growl reminiscent of an old Brazilian sambista. Within that huskiness, there's also sweetness and vulnerability. Saddened by his country's long civil war, Bonga pressed on with his music in order to give people something beautiful and human with which to balance images of strife. He continues to record soulful music of social consciousness and re-emerged on the international stage in 2004 with the powerful album Kaxexe, and has been keeping a higher profile ever since. Banning Eyre, Courtesy Afropop Worldwide: www.afropop.org