Bonga

Kaxexe (Times Square)

Bonga Kuenda, the politically outspoken Angolan athlete turned pop star, hasn't changed much since his music career began in the Seventies. His voice is still endearingly raspy, his lyrics still speak of the heartbreak his country continues to endure, and his music is still a gorgeous mix of styles culled from the former Portuguese empire -- Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, and Portugal itself.

Much of Bonga's music has been called semba, an Angolan precursor to Brazilian samba, and there's some of that on Kaxexe (In Hiding), most notably in "Marimbondo," which comes across as a samba with the volume knob turned slightly down. But there's more than just that. "Vira Moda" and "Samania" hint at Congolese soukous and even Afro-Caribbean merengue and calypso, and ballads such as "Moname" and the title track evoke the Cape Verdean singer Cesaria Evora and the lush mournfulness of Portuguese fado. Despite its pervasive melancholy, the music on Kaxexe radiates a stately grace. It's as if Bonga intends to pull his countrymen out of their troubles through his music.

 
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