The future bass player was born in 1967 in the small village of Mint in Cameroon. At birth, he received the name Bona Pinder Yayumayalolo, from which subsequently appeared his new surname – Bona.
The first musical skills he received in his family, which belonged to the family of Griots, North African storytellers. Their skill has been passed down from generation to generation. Once, the Griots were important people of the tribe and performed many functions: from educating the heirs of the leader of the tribe and communicating with evil spirits to legends and musical accompaniment of all celebrations and ceremonies. By the end of the 20th century, their role became more and more reduced only to the performance of music, while men usually played musical instruments, and women sang.
In his interviews, Bona often says that his grandfather-griot was the first musician to influence him and to discern his talent. He made for his grandson the first, traditional for the Griots, musical instrument – balafon (an African relative of the xylophone).
A keen child spent 8-12 hours a day mastering a new tool. Such determination will help the musician more than once, because, as Bona says, “if I do something, I immerse myself in it for all 1000%”. At the age of 5, the child already played well on a balafon to accompany his mother and four sisters in the church. Bona gradually became a sought-after musician at weddings, christenings and other village celebrations.
In addition to the balafon, he was attracted to other tools, but, not having the opportunity to find them, he learned how to make them himself. Among them were flutes, percussions and, finally, the first 12-string guitar. True, improvised material was not enough for its production .. The resourceful child made the strings from bicycle brake cables, which he stole at a local store.
By the age of 11, Bona moved to Cameroon’s largest city, Douala, together with his father, who got the job of a truck driver. All day Bon practiced playing his homemade instruments and almost never appeared at school. But in the evenings, he could increasingly be seen in a local nightclub, jamming with his school mentor, and part-time by a true African-style bikutsi master, Messi Martin. These performances brought Bon his first income, which he gladly spent on buying a real guitar.
When Bon turned 13, he met a Frenchman, the owner of a jazz club at one of the Douala hotels. A group of musicians was urgently needed at the club, and Bon was recommended as a good performer. Not frightened of the complexity of the task, he agreed within a few weeks to gather a team and start performing, although by that time he had no idea about jazz and was rather attracted by an astronomical monetary reward (20 times his usual earnings). The owner of the club provided Bon with a rich collection of jazz records — over 500 pieces — that the aspiring musician listened to all day and night. On one of them, he accidentally came across the composition “Portrait of Tracy” performed by the legendary Jako Pastorius. The clarity and speed of the game amazed the teenager so much that in the first second he thought that he had mistakenly turned on the accelerated playback mode. From then on, Bon finally found his instrument.
When Bona was 17, his father died. It is time for a big change. Bona went to receive a musical education in Europe. Later, he recalled how he flew to Paris in winter in shorts and a T-shirt, and, getting off the ramp, saw snow for the first time in his life. The steward gave him his sweater and advised him not to despair and still give the city a chance. A few months later, Bon, who here preferred theoretical knowledge to practice, already played with such famous musicians as Didier Lockwood, Marc Ducret, Manu Dibango and Salif Keita.
In 1995, Bona earned the attention of the jury of the Decouvertes competition organized by Radio France Internationale. He made it to the finals with his Eyala ballad. It would seem that the career of a musician went uphill, but a completely unexpected thing happened: the French authorities refused to extend his residence permit, citing the fact that 1604 French bass players are already without work. Then a familiar American flutist invited Bon for a few days to stay at his place in New York.
The four-day visit lasted for 2 weeks, during which Bon and the New York music world got to know each other, studied and surprised with skill. This short time was enough for the American performers and the public to appreciate the talent of Cameroon, and he felt that New York, with its rich musical life, was becoming his hometown.
Soon, Bon was offered the work of music director on the Harry Belafonte show, about which, as he had once been about jazz, he had no idea then. Which, however, did not prevent Bon from successfully coping with…