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Bonga
Kaxexe
Lusafrica/Times Square Records (www.lusafrica.com)

cd cover As an Angolan star athlete in the mid-'60s, Barcelo de Carvalho lived a dual existence worthy of a good spy movie plot. Angola's burning desire for independence from Portugal led to a freedom movement that could only build in strength until success was inevitable, and the young footballer served as a covert message-carrying liaison to exiled freedom fighters in Europe whenever he traveled there to compete. His actions led to his becoming an exile himself, settling in The Netherlands, adapting the name Bonga Kwenda and changing his occupation from jock to musician. The rest is not merely history, it is the story of a true revolutionary who continues to be celebrated in Lusophone Africa and well beyond. Bonga's landmark first album, Angola 72, was a quiet stunner full of acoustic guitar, restless percussion and a uniquely gravelly voice that sounded eloquently world-weary from the outset.

With the followup Angola 74 and subsequent releases, he began to incorporate rhythms and sounds suggestive of Brazilian music. Those elements remain, as do the sprightlier Afro-pop touches characteristic of his recent work. Angola has been independent for nearly 30 years now, but seemingly endless internal strife remains. Thus Bonga's music, joyous though it can be, still has an axe to grind. On Kaxexe he often approaches the feel of Cape Verdean morna, albeit with a stronger rhythmic pull. Sultry acoustic and electric textures envelop Bonga's beautifully raspy voice as ideally as ever, conversing with the chirpy percussion amid songs that both plead for peace and channel the intimacy of a Lisbon nightclub in the wee hours. Bonga's always had a knack for balancing peppy with mellow, in addition to a timeless quality that's hard to define but makes all his music sound ever fresh and inviting. Kaxexe packs the same passion as his earlier output and feels very much like the work of someone who'll continue to make seductively serious (and seriously seductive) music for a long time to come. - Tom Orr

Available from cdroots.com


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