Congolese rumba-funk warriors Staff Benda Bilili and their extraordinary story have made quite an impression around the globe and now the group arrives at the Skirball Center as part of their debut U.S. tour. The band is a collection of mostly paraplegic street musicians from Kinshasa, DR Congo who gathered beneath the acacia trees around the Kinshasa zoo to create sounds rooted in African rumba with elements of old-school rhythm ‘n blues, funk, and reggae. Add in vocals that conjure the crooners of Havana, the toasters of Kingston, even the Godfather of Soul himself and the experience becomes one of a kind.
“[J]aws drop, as well they should in the presence of such an extraordinary band.”Guardian [5 stars]
The core of Staff Benda Bilili consists of seasoned singer/guitarists perched on spectacular customized tricycles, occasionally dancing on the stage with arms raised in joyful supplication. They are backed by a young and entirely acoustic rhythm section including Roger, a teenage prodigy who plays a one-string electric lute he designed and built himself out of a tin can from which he extracts solos of remarkably soulful power.
Staff Benda Bilili consider themselves the real journalists of Kinshasa, as their songs document the events of everyday life, bringing forth the message that real handicaps are not in the body but in the mind. The group earned a 2009 Artist Award at Womex and continues to raise awareness about crimes against humanity in the DR Congo. Their highly acclaimed documentary "Benda Bilili" which was shown at Cannes in 2010, has just been released by National Geographic Entertainment in the US.
Curated by Isabel Soffer/Live Sounds.
Tour made possible, in part, with support from Rotary International.
PHOTOS: NOAH KALINA