Ali Bongo, the deposed President of Gabon, in his early years, aspired to become a music star. He was inspired by American funk artists like James Brown. To realize that dream, he surrounded himself with musicians associated with Brown, including Fred Wesley and manager Charles Bobbit.
This dream materialized when Bongo released a funky album titled “A Brand New Man” in 1977 at the age of 18, which showcased his musical talents reminiscent of Brown’s style. At that time, he had already adopted Islam but still went by his birth name, Alain Bongo.
In 1977, Bongo embarked on a nationwide tour alongside a 30-piece American orchestra under the banner of “Alain Bongo and his America orchestra.” During the same year, he showcased his versatility by delivering a live hip-hop performance at the Gabao Hip Hop Festival.
Bongo joined his father’s cabinet just before turning 30, transitioning from his earlier music pursuits. As state matters took much of his time, he turned his attention to composing music, according to all Africa.
Fast forward to 2009, a pivotal year when Bongo was running to succeed his late father, Omar Bongo Ondimba, Bongo updated his musical repertoire. After becoming the President of Gabon in 2009, he established a studio in the presidential palace where he collaborated on music with his mother Patience Dabany, who is also a singer, as well as pianist and jazz musician Frédéric Gassita.
During a state visit to Beijing in 2016, Chinese President Xi Jinping, whose wife Peng Liyuan is a singer, played several of Bongo’s songs.
YouTube videos capture Bongo, who had embraced hip-hop when he was campaigning energetically, performing alongside Gabon’s hip-hop community during his campaign. He positioned himself as the “Le candidat des jeunes,” or the candidate of the youth, a strategy that proved successful as he emerged victorious, according to CGTN Africa.
Bongo’s government even once organized a free street-side concert featuring local acts like Amenem, Tina, and Ba’Ponga, setting the stage for a performance by Senegalese-born U.S. hip-hop star Akon.
Bongo’s musical talents have always remained active while serving Gabon. He used to play the drums and piano and even composed some jazz songs. Additionally, he contributed to the soundtrack of a Gabonese film, showcasing his continued involvement in the music scene.