Sometimes I get lonely

...and I feel sorry for myself. But then I remember Barbra Streisand's nose. My mom would use this nose to make a point: "You see how Streisand never got that nose fixed? She's not crazy. She's not going to take a chance and get her voice screwed up. So she's stuck with that nose. What are you gonna do?"

Point taken, mom. And so, with this in mind, I accept a certain degree of loneliness as an essential condition of my life. Lonely is my engine, the secret behind everything I do. Lonely makes me dress up to go to the library, but it lets me find an Ideal Friend inside a hardback cover. Lonely makes me talk to random people on the street, but it's why I know so many people, so many stories. Lonely makes me a magpie for wonderful, irrelevant things, and that makes me a person I like to be.

The trick is to make the lonely work for you. Lonely is a rupture with the world you're in, but if you use it well, it's also a door to other places, other lives.

I first heard Bonga in 1996. I was living alone for the first time since I'd left home and loving it. I had a sunny studio apartment near the lake that I couldn't really afford - not so fancy, I just couldn't afford much. I started work at 3, so I spent my mornings reading and writing, surrounded by the glow of hardwood floors. I couldn't afford CDs either, so I'd tape stuff off of college radio, diligently recording playlists for future reference. WNUR had this world music show, Continental Drift, that was so good I actually called in with a pledge during the inevitable fund-raising drive. I don't remember what I was doing when they played "Mona Ki Ngi Xica," or "The Child I Am Leaving Behind," but I remember I stopped and sat and listened. I put that song on the first mix tape I made in bulk, one of those crappy tape-to-tape-to-tape jobs I sent out to a handful of friends. At least one of those tapes is still kicking around; my college roommate stumbled across it when packing for a recent move. He'll tell you, it's a weird tape: Thinking Fellers and Funkadelic and Marian Anderson. And Bonga.

Bonga Kwenda recorded Angola 72 in Rotterdam; he'd been exiled for his affiliation with the anti-colonial insurgency, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola. The album was banned in his homeland, offensive to Portuguese sensibilities on two counts: its lyrics described the desperate poverty of Angolans under colonial rule and its music contained coded shout-outs to Angolan national pride. Bonga's band back home was called Kisseuia, or "poor people's suffering." He wrote songs based on the traditional semba style, the ancestor or close cousin of Brazilian samba (depending on your read of the circular genealogy of Afro-Latin music). He included Angolan instruments like the dizanka, a bamboo-scraper-type beat-keeper that reminds me of the fish. Wait, is that what it's called, the fish?