The Voice of Semba

Bonga Kwenda, born Jose Adelino Barcelo’ de Carvalho, is an iconic Angolan singer, songwriter and political activist. The singer was born on September 5, 1942, in the Bengo province of Angola, to the north of the capital city of Luanda. He spent most of his childhood in poor settlements known in Angola as musseques. It was in the musseques that Bonga acquired his love for Angolan folklore music and eventually formed the group Kissueia. At the time, Angola was under Portuguese rule and any type of cultural expression based on African traditions was marginalized and often banned. The locals rebelled by forming folklore music groups whose lyrics express the people's resentment against the colonial government. 

Bonga also had an inclination for sports. In his youth, he had a reputation for being the fastest runner in his neighborhood and went on to win major titles in Angola, in the 100, 200 and 400 meters runs. In 1966, the Sport Lisboa e Benfica club invited Bonga to Portugal, to pursue a career in athletics. In addition to winning several titles throughout Europe, he became the 400-meter champion of Portugal.
Genre: Semba
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On stage, the singer often plays the guiro- an instrument consisting of a gourd and a stick
In 1972, while in Holland, the singer launched is first album entitled Angola 72. A warrant for Bonga’s arrest was issued in Angola for the anti-colonial, politically charged album. It was also during this time that the singer adopted the African name, Bonga Kwenda, meaning 'He who sees, he who is ahead and in constant movement'.

n 1973, the singer performed for the first time in the United States, at a United Nations event to commemorate the independence of Guine’-Bissau from Portugal. By 1975, all other African Portuguese colonies had achieved independence. However, a post-colonial life in Angola disintegrated into a bloody civil war caused by rival nationalist. Bonga, who remained in Europe, was outspoken against the political leaders on both the Angolan government and the insurgents.

In 1988, after residing in Holland and Paris, the singer returned to Portugal, this time as an established musician. He became the first African musician to win both gold and platinum records in Portugal and to perform as a solo artist at the prestigious Coliseu dos Recreios, a venue that has graced the most talented Portuguese artists. Bonga has performed around the world and in some of the most famous venues such as the Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York and the Olympia in Paris. The singer continues to use his music as a means to promote stability, not only in Angola, but in Africa as a whole.

His music

Bonga’s unmistakable hoarse voice is perfect for delivering both up-tempo and soulful melancholic songs such as Mona Ki Ngi Xica (Angola 72, 1972) and Malembe-Malembe (Paz en Angola, 1991). His genre of music is known as Semba, a style unique to Angola; however the singer also blends in other music styles such as the Angolan Rebita and the Brazilian Samba. Influenced by the vast Cape Verdean community in Holland and Portugal, the singer has also performed a few popular Cape Verdean songs. His Angola 74 album features an amazing version of the Cape Verdean song Sodade, nearly twenty years before the song was popularized by legendary Cape Verdean singer Cesária Évora.

Bonga sings in Portuguese and Kimbundu, the most prevalent Bantu language in Angola. His lyrics, while often humorous and infused with Angolan jargon, are mostly intended to promote peace and prosperity in Angola. Such is the case with is acclaimed, self-titled album Bonga (1994) which focuses on the agonies of the Angolan people caused by an intense civil war that ended in 2002. In one of the album's tracks, Paz em Angola (Peace in Angola), the singer pleads for the end of the civil war and claims that foreigners who moved to Angola to ease the peace process have complicated it even further. As he states in the song, “we are Angolans with history, always suffering/ peace in Angola is necessary, so people can rest”.

In 2001, the singer released Mulemba Xangola. The hit album title track is sung as a duet with Cape Verdean singer Lura. Three danceable albums followed (kaxexe, Maiorais and Bairro), culminating with the release of Hora Kota in February of 2012. Thirty-three albums later, and counting, Bonga show no signs of slowing down. The singer has unquestionably put Angolan music and culture on the map, thus popularizing African music throughout the world.
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Angola 72 (1972)
Angola 74 (1974)
Raízes (1975)
Angola 76 (1976)
Racines (1978)
Kandandu (1980)
Kualaka Kuetu (1983)
Marika (1984)
Sentimento (1985)
Massemba (1987)
Reflexão (1988)
Malembe Malembe (1989)
Diaka (1990)
Jingonça (1991)
Paz em Angola (1991)
Gerações (1992)
Mutamba (1993)
Tropicalissímo (1993)
Fogo na Kanjica (1994)
O Homem do Saco (1995)
Preto e Branco (1996)
Roça de Jindungo (1997)
Dendén de Açúcar (1998)
Falar de Assim (1999)
Mulemba Xangola (2001)
Bonga Kwenda
Mulemba Xangola
In the early 1970s, Bonga resigned from athletics and decided to focus strictly on music. He was an immediate success in his native country and amongst the Angolan expatriate community in Portugal. During this period, Portugal was ruled by the repressive and fascist Salazar government.  Angolans were faced with many restrictions, including the freedom to travel. Bonga’s status as a star athlete allowed him the freedom to travel back and forth between Portugal and Angola. An outspoken supporter of Angola’s independence from Portugal, Bonga would carry messages between exiled freedom fighters in Portugal and compatriots in Angola. Soon, the Portuguese government caught up with Bonga’s plot, which led to the singer being forced into exile in Rotterdam, Holland.