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Music Maestro BongoBandana Talks on New Sounds, Playing in the NBA & Community Building



“I’m never bigger than the people. And I pride myself on that.”

After some technical difficulties, rising artist Bongo Bandana sat down to chat with us about his new music and what he’d been up to lately.

From a professional basketball player in the NBA to a musical artist, Bongo Bandana has been looking at a major career switch. He began this year by releasing his first song Believe. He calls this his intro song where people can learn about his journey. As a kid, he was always interested in music. He and his friends used to play around with rap and music as kids. As he got older, though, there came scholarships for his athleticism in basketball. Getting into the NBA, Bandana played in the NBA B-League and Summer League, and got to travel to play overseas. However, he recently decided to dedicate his time to creating music. “Believe is basically just a song explaining my journey and how it had to come back to rap,” he tells us about the first song he released earlier this year.

He then shared the story of his second song, Spadeena, Raised in Spadina, being Congolese and African, Bandana wanted to pay homage to his roots. His mom used to pronounce Spadina with an accent: Spadeena. “That song is basically just about me growing up in the hood and what I seen in the neighbourhood and what I overcame and what other people overcame,” he shares. However, this is not the only perception Bandana wants listeners to have of him. 

This perception he wants listeners to hold is why he includes a lot of basketball imagery in his visuals. He says, “I want to separate myself from the street aura. I already come from that, I seen it every day, I overcame that. I don’t see the value of me hopping on a beat and rapping about it.” Bandana says he would rather show that while he may come from a certain place, he associates with being an athlete. “My neighbourhood might’ve been there for maybe 50 years, 70 years, and nobody’s ever graduated. Very few ever got a Division One scholarship. Those are big to me,” he continues to tell us about standing out, even in his time at French school. “Even in the Catholic French School Board, nobody’s ever played pro at that level so I’ve done some things that I feel like I should brag about or stand on opposed to the norm.”

He says that while playing basketball, he noticed many players chasing a dream and losing everything if they didn’t make it, having to come back home at ground zero. “I wanna motivate anybody who’s an athlete that it’s okay to find another lane and you could actually be good at it,” that’s why his song Believe is so important to him and why it needed to be his first release. “I couldn’t come in rapping about cars and clothes and everybody around me looking like ‘bro, you played basketball and that’s how you coming in?’” he points out. 

Coming from a background as a professional athlete, he calls the music space easier in comparison.

“With music, I have more freedom,” he begins. The pressure from the media as he was playing basketball was something he was glad to give up. He is now able to freely express himself as an artist without worrying about the optics of not wanting to appease a manager or being too tired to sign autographs one day. 

“I can say what I feel. I don’t have to please anyone. I don’t have a coach that decides how many minutes I get to play.”

One of these freedoms is also getting to tell his story as he wants to. “The reason we did Bongo Bandana was, for one, I don’t wanna be on Wikipedia throwing stuff about myself. I was looking forward to building as I get interviews like this or speaking to people. […] I really wanna separate myself from basketball interviews,” he tells us after we shared what little information we found about “Bongo Bandana” online. Bandana also brings up how this choice was also impacted by his son. A father of a young boy with the same name as him, Bandana’s son also plays basketball and he didn’t want his career to overshadow his kid. “I really try to let him have the name and have the lane,” he says. 

Along with putting family at the forefront, Bandana is an advocate for community work. He has a non-profit organization called City Wide Hoops that provides a safe environment for kids to play basketball. According to their website, City Wide Hoops’ purpose is to also keep kids off the streets and raise a higher marker of success in school thanks to our tutors at hand.” 

Many after-school organizations are, unfortunately on the more expensive side. Bandana makes sure that this is a space where kids can train and get tutoring for free. “I feel like that’s my calling,” Bandana shares, “Rap is just something that I do.” He tells us that this organization is what he wants to reflect who he is. He says that while, yes, he raps, the kids he works with don’t see him as a rapper. They see him as the guy who does the tutoring, who buys them food, and who helps them with basketball. 

“I do wanna be recognized but I don’t want it to overshadow what I do for real.”

Bongo Bandana wants to build connections and community. He says that his son motivates him a lot to keep doing and giving back. Bandana shared a story about summer school tutoring where he gifted the kids from City Wide Hoops laptops that they ended up keeping to work on. He strives to teach these kids what he hopes to teach his son. To treat them like his own. He teases that by this summer, the organization is aiming to get the teams to travel for competitions. From a basketball player to a rapper/community builder, Bongo Bandana wants to give back. 

But this doesn’t mean he’s giving up music anytime soon. In fact, Bandana shares that he’s done music long before basketball, recalling stories of his time in school when he and his friends would freestyle. “My cousin, BB, I did everything he did. So, when he wanted to rap, I wanted to rap. He wanted to play basketball, I wanted to play basketball,” he reveals of this time. However, as a young man, he wasn’t writing much. Instead, he’d rely on Bibi to write things for him to rap. Later on, the two would get together and Bandana would learn to write for himself. 

More personally, he shares that he would like to write lyrics for others. Bongo Bandana is a team-oriented man. Whether as a basketball player, a rapper, a coach, or a writer. He integrates every part of himself into each creative venture. New to rise but more sure than most, Sidedoor presents: Bongo Bandana. 



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