Richard Bona: The Ten Shades of Blues

You’ll hear nothing on The Ten Shades of Blues that resembles John Lee Hooker, B.B. King or Lightnin’ Hopkins, and that’s the point: Richard Bona, the Cameroonian bassist and vocalist, finds a universal blues essence in places others would never think to look. There’s “African Cowboy,” for example. With its layered vocals (all Bona), banjo, fiddle and mandolin (the latter also Bona), it resembles traditional bluegrass more than any known brand of blues. Yet the track’s simple progression is unmistakably blueslike, and that same pulse lies at the heart of “Shiva Mantra,” recorded in various locales in India. With its crossover Eastern and Western instrumentation, the tune’s all about the trance, Bona’s adamant bassline and a bevy of Indian percussion (tabla, mridangam, ganjira) subtly providing a foundation for the malleable, airborne vocals of Bona and Indian singers Shankar Mahadevan (of Remember Shakti fame) and Nandini Srikar.

Utilizing different configurations of musicians throughout the set, Bona sets out to explore the nature of a musical bedrock that originated in Africa over a century ago and has since permeated the globe’s music, manifesting in myriad guises. The juxtaposition of “Good Times,” a ringer for smooth ’70s soul featuring Frank McComb on vocals and Gregoire Maret on harmonica, and “Mbemba Mama,” a melodious, shuffling tribute to moms spotlighting two French musicians, guitarist Sylvain Luc and pianist Jean Michel Pilc, would seem to negate Bona’s own premise, but it doesn’t require much effort to discern the link. And when he gets around to “Yara’s Blues,” the only track that actually includes the word in its title, it doesn’t stand apart from the rest so much as take its place among what should be a collection of misfits, but never is.