@ the Barbican Centre, London
16 November 2008
Click an image to enlarge.
Richard Bona was born in 1967 in the little village of Minta, East
Cameroon. He grew up in a home filled with music: his grandfather
and mother were singers. Bona built his own balafon after becoming
fascinated with the instrument as a very young child and started
to practice it eight to twelve hours a day.
At 5 years old, he began to perform in public, singing in the village
church with his mother and sisters. He started to use his amazing
and natural ability to learn any instrument only by watching it
being played. The main problem was access to instruments in his
village. Bona was therefore forced to learn to make his own, from
wooden flutes to percussion instruments; he easily built everything
he needed…well, not that easily. When it came to building
a guitar he had trouble locating guitar strings. It would be the
local bicycle shop that saved him. Bona was able to make guitar
strings from bicycle brake cables!
So, was it thanks to the guitar with ‘very special strings’,
Richard Bona was highly in demand to sing and play at baptisms,
weddings, and church functions. The word of this prodigious young
musician had spread throughout the village. He then moved to Douala
and lived with his father. He began working as a musician, thinking
that ‘the guitar was the hip instrument that you had to play’.
He began playing gigs at 11 years old, replacing his homemade model
by a professional-style guitar. He got a job playing guitar in bars
at night time, making people dance… and the rest is now history…!