Richard Bona Scenes From My Life

African pop singer and multi-instrumentalist Bona shows sophisticated mastery of diverse pop styles that range from slick jazzy funk (Djombwe) and Latin mambo grooves (Te Dikalo) to a Latin ballad (Na Mala Nde) and the dramatic torch song “Muna Nyuwe” featuring an ambitious string quintet. Yet, at the outset Bona’s project gets bogged down by over-production that clutters up “Dipita,” “New Bell” and “Souwedi Na Wengue.” Things improve dramatically with the minimalist trio ballad “Eyala” and in ballads like “One Minute,” “Muna Nyuwe,” “Na Mala Nde” and “Konda Djanea” Bona’s sensuous elegance defines his refined pop touch. The catchy circular riff of the multi-tracked duo “Eyando” and the percussive solo “Messanga” are the most overtly African performances in a project most notable for its cosmopolitan edge. In the process, Bona sounds in danger of losing what makes his music distinctive, leaving one to speculate about his ultimate ambition: is he striving to become Africa’s answer to Sting? (Columbia)