Somewhere on campus, the hands of Bona Nsiala can be heard twirling away at guitar strings, making a melody for passersby to and from classes. Many stop to listen, and some ask him why he plays out in public.
Nsiala’s usual reply is that he simply likes the echo that he gets from playing in open areas. “One thing that surprised me, is when I sit down to play, it catches people’s attention,” said Nsiala.
But not many know that Nsiala’s public display of music is rooted in reasons far deeper than being able to play in a nice environment.
Nsiala has been practicing music since he was a young boy, growing up in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Nsiala was raised by a loving mother and father, whom he respected and loved.
Growing up, Nsiala attended Catholic church, a prominent religion in the Congo. There, he got his start in music by singing in the choir, and by learning keyboard and piano from his priest. Although Nsiala didn’t stick with the keyboard, Nsiala reflected, “I learned so much because nowadays, when I touch the keyboard, it’s easy for me to understand it.” Nsiala also played in a band between the ages of 12 and 14.
Nsiala took four years of civil engineering at the Institute of Buildings and Public Works in Kinshasa, the capital of the Congo.
After he finished his schooling, Nsiala found that he needed another two years of higher education in order to become a master engineer.
Nsiala came to California 19 years ago to get his master’s degree in the field of engineering. However, these plans didn’t work out exactly as planned.
Once he arrived in California, Nsiala encountered financial difficulties. Living in the Bay Area and trying to provide for himself proved to be a tough task. Nsiala took to working quick, well-paying jobs in areas of manual labor like construction and plumbing.
Nonetheless, Nsiala was unable to apply to University of California, Berkeley for their master’s degree in engineering program; the Congo was engaged in a heated civil war at the time, so Nsiala wasn’t able to get his documentation to the university in time.
“You’re facing life too, so you gotta go to work, you gotta provide for yourself, so everything changed,” Nsiala said.
Since then, Nsiala had a son, who is now 13 years old. Nsiala is currently raising him as a single father, and is dedicated to giving him a full life.
Nsiala has also taken classes at Diablo Valley College, including one in their Construction program, as well as many technical courses at Los Medanos College. Nsiala first came to LMC for their Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration program, which has since been cancelled.
Nsiala is currently works as plumbing as his main source of income, and is taking technical courses at LMC to work toward transferring to UC Berkeley once again.
However, Bona, 51, is not only focused on progress toward a technical career; Nsiala’s old roots in music are still alive within him.
“When I do appliances over there, sometimes I get stressed out, take a 10-minute break, and I run to the keyboard, I sit down, it soothes my mind, I feel good,” said Nsiala.
“I wish every student would take, outside of his major, a music class. It’s a necessity for his system, his body, his mind, his soul.”
Nsiala’s reunification with music was also advanced by the untimely death of his mother, three years ago.
“I was going crazy,” Nsiala said. “The pain was so much. I was feeling it in my stomach.” Nsiala was losing weight and energy, and didn’t believe anyone could heal him. “I couldn’t listen to anybody. I went to church, whatever they say over there doesn’t make sense to me. But I got involved more in music, playing, spending more time with the guitar — I felt the healing process.”
Although Nsiala did not connect with the messages of the churches he went to, he retains a sense of spirituality. “God is a spirit” and “Music is a part of that spirituality,” said Nsiala.
Since reacquainting himself with music, Nsiala has been inseparable from the art. He went out and bought a keyboard and guitar, and has since dove into his craft.
“I think my mind is in there right now,” Nsiala said, pausing, “in music.”
“Day by day, through the music, I’m healing.”
Nsiala now plays about eight hours per day, 40 hours per week on keyboard and guitar.
Nsiala is also enrolled in a vocal and guitar class this semester.
“I don’t know how much I can thank Los Medanos College,” said Nsiala, on being given the opportunity to learn and practice music.
On Nsiala’s frequent public performances, vocal professor Sylvester Henderson said, “This is a wonderful way to support the arts and to display ‘Vocal Talent and Student Creativity.’ Henderson described Nsiala as hard working, eager to grow and professionally mature.
On the first day of his guitar class, Nsiala’s voice resounded across the circle of to-be musicians as he warmly remembered the first time, he met the teacher, David Trevors, many years ago. Although no audience members outside of Nsiala and Trevors had this memory, Nsiala’s enthusiasm for his relationship to the teacher pulled in everyone in the room.
“He’s super filled with gratitude. And appreciative of what he’s learning,” said Trevors. “He’s sacrificing a lot to learn music, so I think that’s really awesome.”
Moving forward, Nsiala is looking to make music a main component in his life. He is currently trying to learn how to read music as well as possible. “Reading music is a game of mind,” Nsiala said.
Nsiala is also making efforts at collaborating with other musicians and recording his own music.
“Music has so much attraction, so much power, so much healing and spirituality, and that we need to focus and find out what it is. What makes people go down, what makes people change their mood in a second.”
Nsiala then stopped to wave to a passing student, a bright smile shining across his face.
Slowly turning back, Nsiala said, “I want to do something that can heal people.”