Richard Bona, Interview by Editor Jake Kot –
A very young man from Cameroon starts on his first instrument, a balafon, and with the help of his mentor, his grandfather, begins to carve out a musical life that almost reads like a fairy tale…that would be a fairy tale with a very happy ending. His musicality was more than apparent early on, and his development into a world renowned artist is a story we all enjoy hearing…someone who musically follows their heart in every sense of the word and is able to bring that joy to an entourage of listeners worldwide.
As the story goes, Jaco was the catalyst for bringing Richard to the bass. But what “Richard” brings to the bass not only captivates audiences everywhere, but also caught the ear of some of the finest musicians on the planet. His discography is truly a veritable who’s who of the music industry, not only for his bass virtuosity, but for his singing voice as well. The unbound creativity he brings to whoever he works with just always seems to bump everything a notch higher… not just in a technical sense, but in a pure music for music’s sake offering. Don’t misunderstand me. His technical ability on his instrument (instruments) is second to none. He’ll play a groove as deep as you can imagine, and then turn around and scat a solo on bass that would stun George Benson, and finish that same solo scatting in “harmony” to what he’s playing. But interestingly enough you’re able to see that no one is enjoying the moment more than Richard.
His fifth solo CD, “The Ten Shades of Blues” is a collage of stories, sounds, moods, stunning vocal harmonies, and stellar musicianship. To make a CD that can truly touch nearly everyone is quite a task to undertake, or even imagine for that matter, but I believe this CD could be representational of setting a standard in that realm…a tribute to this man’s pure musicality. I would make it a point to watch all three videos offered with this article to get a true picture of Richard’s diversity and unquestioned musicianship, as well as experience the great love he obviously has for being in the moment, and in the music.
Jake: I know in your youth that you started learning jazz just by listening, as there were no schools available for you. And I believe later on you actually did some formal training in Paris. Do you feel it was advantageous for you learning first by ear?
Richard: I just started listening to jazz records, and one of the first things I heard was the tune Portrait of Tracy by Jaco when I was a teenager. I was already a professional musician at that point, mostly playing guitar. The first time I heard the bass being played in a jazz setting was Jaco playing Donna Lee by Charlie Parker. Listening to that record lead me to Weather Report, this led me to Joe Zawinul, which then led me to other jazz greats. That was the starting point for me.