Shout-Africa – KINSHASA– One of the great global success stories of the past year, Staff Benda Bilili have become an unstoppable force in international music. A group of street musicians who live in and around the grounds of the zoo in Kinshasa, Congo, they make music of astonishing power and beauty. The band’s mesmerising rumba-rooted grooves, overlaid with vibrant vocals and extraordinary tin-can guitar solos, have been dazzling audiences and media the world over, both on record and on stage.
Led by Ricky Likabu, four paraplegic singer/guitarists form the core of the band, assisted by a ‘hype man’ on crutches who whips the crowd into a frenzy, and backed by an all-acoustic rhythm section pounding out tight grooves. Then, on top of everything, are those inimitable and infectious solos performed by teenage prodigy Roger Landu on a one-string electric lute he designed and built himself out of a tin can.
After working with Staff Benda Bilili for a couple of years, filmmakers Florent de la Tullaye and Renaud Barret presented the band to Brussels-based independent label Crammed Discs and their music producer Vincent Kenis (who had already introduced remarkable Congolese bands such as Konono N°1 and others). Crammed decided to sign the group, and Kenis proceeded to record the Staff’s debut album out in the open, mainly in the zoological garden near centre ville, using a dozen microphones, a MacBook laptop and a 100m mains cable connected to a deserted refreshment bar nearby.
Crammed Discs released the ‘Très Très Fort’ album in April 2009, to unanimous media and audience acclaim. The band earned the prestigious 2009 Womex Award (the main award in the field of world music) as well a several awards in the UK, and ripped through Europe for the first time in late 2009 for what turned out to be one of the most spectacular debut tours of the year. The continent’s media responded in a chorus of praise, with top TV shows (including BBC Newsnight), broadsheet newspapers and world-renowned radios lavishing the band and their album with attention and end-of-year plaudits.
International festivals are now queuing up to book them, and the band are scheduled to play over 50 concerts across Europe during summer 2010, followed by more tours in Japan, Europe and the USA ( see the dates below).Meanwhile, Staff Benda Bilili are also taking part in the ‘Kick Polio Out Of Africa’ campaign, which Rotary International organized around the World Cup.
The latest development in the amazing Staff Benda Bilili story is that the full-length film devoted to their life so far was welcomed with a standing ovation on the opening night of the Cannes Film Festival. Entitled “Benda Bilili” and directed by Barret/de la Tullaye, the film shows the band’s journey from the sidewalks of Kinshasa to the stages of large European concert halls and festivals.