Richard Bona: One Man, Many Sounds

We sat down with the bass maestro to discuss his recent projects and the Markbass gear that drives his sound

Richard Bona: One Man, Many Sounds

We sat down with the bass maestro to discuss his recent projects and the Markbass gear that drives his sound

With a unique combination of fluidity, expression, and melodicism on his instrument, a timeless vocal gift, and songwriting that incorporates global ingredients, Richard Bona brought the sound of his native Cameroon in Central Africa to the mainstream of jazz, pop, and world music. Via classic recordings with everyone from Harry Belafonte, Manu Dibango, and Salif Keita to Joe Zawinul, Pat Metheny, Mike Stern, and Quincy Jones—as well as over a dozen critically-acclaimed solo sides—Bona has proven to be equal parts bass virtuoso and riveting frontman. Since he joined forces with Markbass in 2012, their amps and basses have become a foundational part of his musical voice. We caught up with Richard to ask about his recent career and gear developments.

You recently released the single, “Il Y Avait Quoi Avant.” What inspired the piece?

It’s a very politically-inspired song. In it, I am actually repeating what a minister said and countering her with some factual realities. I come from a place where I feel a need to be inspired and continue working to ensure all people can gain freedom, equality, and dignity.

You also released live performances of your renditions of Vince Mendoza songs with the Metropole Orkest. What was that experience like?

It was amazing. Playing with the Metropole Orchestra is always fun, and Vince is an excellent conductor and arranger. It requires a lot of focus because we are playing the music as it’s written. The sound of the orchestra is unique and onstage I feel surrounded within the sound. It’s a very rewarding experience for any musician.

How has your playing has evolved since you emerged onto the scene in the ’90s? 

I would say I’ve evolved by perfecting my craft every day. I understood a longtime ago that excellence is repetition, so I apply that on a daily basis. I play my bass and sing every single day.

What’s your best advice for bass players regarding singing while playing?

Try singing everything you’re playing on the bass. Mimic the notes with your voice and try to match them. In about five to six months, you will see a big difference and it will become easier over time to sing and play separate parts.

When did you first start playing Markbass amps? 

It was in a rehearsal studio in New York City, back in 2012. I was amazed by the tone of the amp. In a beautiful coincidence, Marco got in touch with me a few months after that and I’ve been onboard with him ever since.

What is it about their amps that initially stood out to you?

What I like most about them is they all have a very particular and special tone that is unique. Markbass has developed their own sound and it’s exactly what I want out of my amps. It’s not too bright or too low; it cuts through just how it should.

What was the process like for creating your Ninja amps?

At the start, I was following carefully where Marco was trying to get to. The good thing is he understood that I wanted to have close to a passive sound from the amp, and from there we were on the same page. They came out exactly how I envisioned them.

Tell us about your RB Kilimanjaro and Kimandu signature basses. 

I am full of gratitude for these instruments. Marco and I are both hard workers who won’t stop until we get it right. It took us a lot of years but we finally got the results we wanted. The basses are named for the two highest mountain peaks in Africa. I wanted to come up with an instrument that has everything I liked about my past basses. It started with me drawing the body shape. I knew I needed a lighter bass for my shoulder and back, so we have the various cutaways, which has led to a very light instrument I can play all day. The woods they select are beautiful and you can truly hear that in their sound. Even the onboard electronics are meant to enhance the sound of the wood, which has a tight low end. My other consideration was that the basses be affordable in each of their price ranges. These instruments are very special. I’m glad to know they’ve been getting a warm welcome from various players.

Which basses are you taking with you on tour right now? 

The Kilimanjaro F1.

What is your current gear set up for touring? 

I am using my Kilimanjaro F1, my Little Mark IV Ninja head, and two MB58R 122 PURE cabinets. That combination is amazing.

You’ve also been using Markbass strings. What do you like about them? 

They’re a perfect blend of everything I want in a bass string. Remember, the strings are the foundation of tone and texture, and these are just beautiful. They are made with such love and passion, and the tone lasts for months.

What do you like about working with Marco and Markbass? 

It’s a great working relationship because Marco is one of the few people who is as passionate as I am. I’m proud to represent his brand and the company because it reflects values and trust. Right now we’re working on a new amp and I can’t wait for the world to hear it.

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Bass Magazine   By: Bass Magazine