Staff Benda Bilili
The percolating sounds of African rumba fill the hall. In front of the stage the crowd shimmies, a rapturous smile on everyone. That was October 15th 2012 at the Rialto. The band was Staff Benda Bilili, straight from Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
On stage, 8 musicians: 4 on wheelchairs (But in no sense wheelchair bound), one on crutches and three younger ones not attacked by polio. Roger Landu, the youngest at 23 plays a self-made instrument the satonge, constructed with an amplified tin can, an arced piece of wood and a string which he bends to produce true notes with the intensity of a Jimi Hendrix.
Flashback to 2005. Under the eye of a French film crew documenting street musicians in Kinshassa, Ricky Likabu and his orchestra are rehearsing at the Kinshassa Zoo. Many have had polio and use rickety handcrafted wheelchairs. At night they sleep on cardboard boxes. Others, younger and in better health are told, if you want to be in the band, you have to commit. No missing rehearsals. No one can guess that four years later their first record will come out to rave reviews.
At Cannes in 2010, those first images of Staff Benda Bilili have become the documentary, Benda Bilili.
That’s the movie that brought me to the Rialto on a warm October night.
Friends, strangers, I strongly recommend that you get their two albums: Très très fort and Bouger le monde (available on iTunes), and try to find Benda Bilili at your video club.