Bouger le Monde! - Staff Benda Bilili

Crammed Discs

Life is improvisation. We never know what we’ll be handed and we work with what we got. At first glance, challenge seems to be what the members of Staff Benda Bilili received in abundance. Stricken with polio at an early age, the four seniors at the heart of this Congolese rumba band met the challenge of mobility in the face of poverty with an innovative approach. Their radically-customized tricycle wheel chairs distinguish the band on stage and carry them with rock star status among their own; the displaced people of Kinshasa. Their very name puts a stamp on their modus operandi. Staff Benda Bilili literally means ‘look beyond appearances’. These street-wise elders would rehearse their guitars and harmonies with other paraplegics on the grounds of the city zoo because it was a quiet place and because able-bodied musicians didn’t want to work with them. They recruited a teenage prodigy who designed and built an electrified one-string lute out of a discarded fish can he calls a ‘satonge’. Now 21 years old, Roger Landu takes all of the soaring, high octave, fuzzed-out ‘guitar solos’ on the band’s propulsive compositions. Other homeless kids or shege have been adopted into the band, and in performance they whip up the crowds with the help of a hype-man on crutches. Staff Benda’s new album for 2012 is called Bouger Le Monde ‘Move The World’, the next challenge that their innovative thinking has most definitely prepared them for. Like griots, the musicians consider themselves curators of Congolese street culture (as exposed in the wonderful feature documentary ‘Benda Bilili’). Theirs is an inspiring story of triumph over adversity that rings true in a singular and engaging sound of invention and exuberance, shaking the world into movement for anyone who lends an ear. Key tracks on Bouger Le Monde include the opening triple play of Osali Mabe (You’ve Done The Wrong Thing), Sopeka (Begging) and Bilanga (The Field). By that point, you’ll be hooked for the duration.