Easter with Bonga

Jennifer and I got to Lisbon on Easter Sunday. We thought everything would be closed but there were several discount shoe stores doing a brisk business and a guy in a three-piece suit levitating above Rua Augusta.

That night we checked into This is Lisbon (awkwardly but not inaccurately referred to on their website as a “charm hostel”) where we were treated to (paid a nominal fee for) a dinner of traditional dishes and a performance of Brazilian music by a trio of guys the hostel employees were friends with. After the concert we talked with the musicians for a while and wound up accompanying them to a bar in the Alfama neighborhood, a labyrinthine remnant of Moorish times and one of the only areas in the city to survive the 1755 earthquake.

We stopped outside a door where a few people were smoking cigarettes but that was otherwise unremarkable. After Gonzalo pounded on the door a visibly drunken woman opened the door and ushered us in to a packed, steamy room where people were drinking and dancing to the sounds of some of the happiest, most uplifting music I ever heard. Two guys playing guitar and singing, another playing bass and a fourth playing percussion, if I remember correctly.

After they were finished the singer told me it was the music of Bonga, an Angolan who came to Portugal as a track star in the sixties but later turned to music, which got him in trouble with the Portuguese regime at that time. The next week I found a copy of his album Angola 74 at the Thieves Market, and was able to identify the song I heard as a cover of his song “Marika.” When you listen to it you might be able to get a taste of what for me was one of the most enjoyable Easters since the good Lord rose from the grave.

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