Congolese musicians shake up Jorgensen
Published: Monday, October 22, 2012
Updated: Monday, October 22, 2012 00:10
People of all ages, from toddlers to senior citizens, danced along to Congolese music played by Staff Benda Bilili at the Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts on Friday night.
Staff Benda Bilili is a group of street musicians who used to play in Kinshasa, Congo. With rumba-based beats, vibrant vocals and tin-can guitar solos, the group has been impressing audiences and media all around the world.
Coming from a city that holds more than 40,000 abandoned street kids, Staff Benda Bilili consists of many handicapped members. Assisted by a “hype man” on crutches who excites the crowd and an all-acoustic rhythm section, four paraplegic singers/guitarists form the core of the band. In addition, a teenage prodigy who created his own one-string electric lute out of a tin can performs inimitable solos. All of these unique things put Staff Benda Bilili on the map when they toured Europe for the first time in 2009, promoting their debut album titled “Tres Tres Fort.”
French filmmakers Florent de la Tullaye and Renaud Barret shot a film called “Benda Bilili” which premiered at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival. Gaining wordwide recognition, the band has toured Japan and Australia as well. They describe themselves as journalists of Kinshasa since their songs document and comment on events of everyday life in the Congo. One of their strongest messages is that the only real handicaps are not in the body but in the mind. The term Benda Bilili literally means “put forward what is hidden.”
The band consisted of musicians Ricky Likabu, Coco Ngambali, Theo Nsituvuidi, Djunana Tanga-Seule, Zadis Mbulu Nzungu, Kabamba Kabose Kasungo, Paulin “Cavalier” Kiara-Maigi, Roger Landu, Cubain Kabeya and Randy Buda. They all walked out to their instruments and began playing while dancing along to their music. Throughout the concert, all of the band members sang parts of songs, including drummer Buda. They’d highlight different soloists, share choruses and harmonies and emphasize the diversity of voices and talents they all had. Each song would start off with a single instrument whether it be drums, guitar or a voice.
In the middle of one of their songs, the band stopped and slipped into an a cappella breakdown while encouraging audience members to stand up and clap along. Only after the entire crowd was up and clapping did the band start the music up again, in harmony with the audience. It wasn’t long before the crowd got restless in their seats, swaying their bodies to the music.
Audience members gradually began to get up from their seats and dance in place until a brave couple went up to the right side of the stage and began dancing. Soon after, people fled from their seats to join the movement on the “dance floor,” hardly leaving any seats filled. They rocked out as if they were fans for years and didn’t sit down until the show was over. Landu, the teenage prodigy on his homemade electric lute, even went across the stage to show the crowd how to dance to Congalese music. After, he introduced each member of the band before their last song. The band received a standing ovation at the end of the show.