Meaning friendship in the Bantu language of Lingala, Bondeko is not just a title – it is a theme that governs the debut album of Toto Bona Lokua. Having gained traction with international audiences, their music pays homage to the Creole ancestry connecting the band members.
The style of the band illustrates the divergent end results of an imperialist project: it escapes the enduring colonial effect of Eurocentric musical imagination, presenting a sound that is refreshingly authentic and rich. Listeners that have grown complacent to the frequent monotony of English language chart music will be excited to hear of music that is educative, lyrical and created to smash down linguistic and cultural barriers.
It is difficult to dictate to what extent I myself appreciate this record without being able to understand its lyrics. However, any listener will be able to strongly discern the virtuosity of band leader Bonas; that in terms of musical fluency, he is a consummate artist. Yet many will question his ability capacity for song writing; given their tedium, it is all too easy to skip both the initiating track and its predecessor.
Pieces guaranteed to generate more affect have been produced by other band members – but with no information on who wrote what on the album, praise can not be issued directly. But in spite of its recurring dullness, fun does flitter intermittently in the sequence, particularly in ‘Tann Tanbou A’. Breaking free from the overall disappointment of the album – heightened acutely by the elevator music of ‘Mi Mama’ and the unsuccessful attempt at a mournful ballad ‘M’aa Kiana, Youwilé – it injects a much-needed sense of musical freedom to the collection.
Disappointingly, the second instalment from the group is generally lacking in imagination when it comes to music and lyric production. Reaching its auditory zenith in the more melancholic tracks – principally in ‘Nhum Nya Ko’ and ‘Thitae’ – the band fails to produce an entirely cohesive sequence.
There is zero doubt in my mind that each member of this collective is fluent in the universal language of music – the issue that burdens their artistic output is evidently a lack of communication and cohesion.