Monday, May 11, 2009

STAFF BENDA BILILI: Making Music and Doing Good

They are called: Staff Benda Bilili and they are a musical sensation that is known for their unique personal stories as well as their captivating music. I can (and will) point to stories and articles found in the UK Guardian and The Independent (and let us not forget their My Space page) to give you a very good idea of who Staff Benda Bilili are but I would like to preface the remainder of this post by saying that both their message and their music is uplifting.

The names of the musicians are: Theo Nsituvuidi, Coco Ngambali (vocals, guitar); Cubain Kabeya (vocals, drums); Roger Landu, Ricky Likabu, Kabamba Kabose Kasungo, Djuana Tanga-Suele, Zadis Mbulu Nzungu (vocals); Paulin Kiara-Maigi (bass guitar); Randy Buda (percussion).

Staff Benda Bilili are paraplegic street musicians who live in Kinshasa, Congo in the vicinity of that city’s zoo. A description of the group, found on their My Space page puts it this way:

“The band's mesmerising rumba-rooted grooves, overlaid with vibrant vocals, remind you at times of Cuban nonchalance, at other times of the Godfather of Soul himself. You can hear echoes of old-school rhythm and blues, then reggae, then no-holds barred funk. Four senior singer/guitarists sitting on spectacularly customized tricycles, occasionally dancing on the floor of the stage, arms raised in joyful supplication, are the core of the band, backed by a younger, all-acoustic, rhythm section pounding out tight beats. Over the top of this are weird, infectious guitar-like solos performed by young Roger Landu, (an ex-street kid the band took under their wing), who plays a one-string electric lute he designed and built himself out of a tin can.”

Their first album is entitled: "Très Très Fort" for 'Very Very Strong' or 'Very Very Loud'. A review of Très Très Fort in the U.K. Guardian can be found online.

The U.K. newspaper The Independent has this to say about Staff Benda Bilili:

“Disabled by polio, a group of homeless Congolese buskers called Staff Benda Bilili are attracting Western film-makers, musicians and internet fans with their sweet and funky music. Andy Morgan reports from Kinshasa”

“The band who are weaving spells about our ears with their dulcet rolling rumba and keening vocals are the unrecognised geniuses of Article 15, the masters of survival. They call themselves Staff Benda Bilili, which, in Lingala, the lingua franca of this vast and variegated country, means something like "the people who see beyond..."Beyond prejudice, corruption, the lies of priests and politicians, the grimy veneer of daily life."

Ricky Likabu, described as the “backbone” of Staff Benda Bilili hopes that the group will be able to use some of the proceeds from their musical success to open opening a centre for the disabled and homeless people of Kinshasa. “He also dreams of touring Africa with Staff Benda Bilili, spreading the message of communal resilience and self-help.”


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