Thursday, November 19, 2009

Staff Benda Bilili

19 November 2009

Staff Benda Bilili are an amazing band – one of the most exciting live acts I have seen for ages. They are a group of Congolese street musicians who live around the grounds of the zoo in Kinshasa – where they recorded their debut album in the open air. Four of the musicians use wheelchairs and a fifth appears on crutches but this doesn’t prevent some of the most exuberant dancing you’ll ever see on a stage. The music is upbeat, catchy, funky and infectiously danceable. A fantastic, young drummer plays a kit which appears to be constructed from blocks of wood and tin cans that might have been found in a skip. But the star of the show is eighteen-year-old Roger Landu who plays the ‘satonge’ – an instrument he constructed from a condensed milk tin, coat hanger and a piece of wire, connected to an amplifier to create a soaring electronic sound which is part Stylophone, part theremin, part Jimi Hendrix! It’s quite hard to adequately describe the effect of seeing Staff Benda Bilili – who we saw at the Stables in Wavendon on Sunday. At first you worry that their disabilities and wheelchairs are being exploited as a gimmick but soon their musicianship, raw enthusiasm and zest for life makes you forget the disabilities and see the personalities. It was a truly brilliant performance – the album, ‘Très Très Fort’ is good but nothing like the experience of seeing the band live – do catch them if you have the chance. Take a look at:

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