Tarbaby at Jazz Standard
SubCulture Brings New Listening Room to NoHo

Richard Bona Plays SubCulture

by Melanie Wong

image from i1.ytimg.com

Last Friday at SubCulture, I had the privilege of seeing jazz bassist/singer/composer Richard Bona lead his Afro-Cuban sextet, Mandekan Cubano—whose welcoming personalities and unparalleled musicianship captured the audience's ears and hearts from start to finish.

Each of the five superstars that make up Mandekan Cubano brought something special to the stage: trumpeter Dennis Hernandez and trombonist Luis Bonilla must be applauded for their out-of-this-world chops; Osmany Parades for his wicked piano solos; and cousins Luisito and Robert Quintero for their unwavering grooves and wild conga playing. Even in the second set of the night, the group was full of life, and their endless energy was contagious, simultaneously feeding the music and the audience.

Bona, a self-taught multilingual musician, doesn’t sound like any bassist you’ve ever heard before—an effect that stems from his Cameroonian upbringing, where he began playing balafon in his grandfather's local band at five years old. His personal philosophy about what it means to be a musician is that, “when you’re a musician, you entertain people. You make them dance. You tell jokes. You sing. The whole combo.” And that’s exactly what he did.

Bona's unique sound mixes West African and Cuban musical styles, as well as a multitude of vocal styles and languages (e.g. traditional African folksong interweaved with scatting). A natural jokester, Bona's relentless stage antics kept the audience laughing throughout the show. In fact, one of his most fascinating talents proved to be his on-the-spot incorporation of disruptive sounds into the show itself—such as the pager that began beeping incessantly during his extended solo (yes, apparently people still own those), as well as the plastic cups that tumbled noisily to the ground during a quiet moment of his encore—using these as tools to enhance the aural experience, rather than detract from it.

Ninety minutes into the evening, the show's close felt like it came much too soon; no one wanted to stop clapping, singing, and bopping along, but alas, after a rapturous applause for Bona and his crew, it was time to go. The only thing more I could have wished for the evening was that SubCulture had whipped back their amazing retractable chairs in favor of a dance floor. Maybe next time.