Recados de Fora Bonga Lusafrica Born Jose Barcelo de Carvalho, the artist now more simply known as Bonga, may not have much of a profile in Australia but he’s something of a pop star in his native Angola and in Europe, where he’s regarded as a bona-fide legend of postcolonial African music. The title of this septuagenarian singer-songwriter’s 13th album, which translates as “Messages From Elsewhere”, reflects a life journey in nonchronological order that spans decades and countries, from Bonga’s teenage days as a protest singer in his homeland with a growing resentment of Portuguese rule to his present status as the modern post-civil war voice of Angola, where he recently returned to live after a lengthy exile overseas. During a spell in Portugal in his youth, Bonga excelled as an athlete, winning a national track title and playing soccer for Benfica. There’s inherent agility and grace in his soulful singing and in his songs, especially those enclosed in the local genre, semba — a punchy samba and rumbarelated rhythm threaded with percussion, soaring support singers, gyrating guitars, animated accordion fills and brass breaks. Even in its faster paces, as in the carnivalesque bounce of the title track and Ngo Kuivu, and the percussion-dominated roots study Tonokenu, Bonga’s husky voice exudes warmth and passion. In aching lamentations such as the Portuguese fado and Cape Verdean mornainformed Sodade, Meu Bem, Sodade and Odji Maguado, the influence of divas Cesaria Evora and Maria Bethania peeps through. Overall, Recados de Fora is as seductive as the Buena Vista Social Club album. It has the potential to do for Angolan music what the latter did for Cuban son and bolero. album although Jarre, like Mike Oldfield in his Tubular Bells series, provides touchpoints with the original. Jarre says he wanted to see what Oxygene could be if he composed it today and he has kept the minimalist feel, with little use of percussion. An impressive collection of keyboards creates an anthemic backdrop that washes over the listener and is punctuated by bright bursts of synth. The album opens in familiar territory with metered synth notes overlaid by electric piano, and ends with the otherworldly dirge of Oxygene Part 20.
In between is an lush sonic landscape that remains true to the original but never quite breaks out in the way you keep hoping it should. The melodic, up-tempo Oxygene Part 17 occupies the Oxygene Part IV spot but doesn’t reach the heights of its predecessor. Overall, Jarre has produced a rich reminder of the power of electronic music but not something that is about to relegate the original Oxygene from its position of France’s bestselling album.