October 30: Staff Benda Bilili Shakes the World
Story by EMILY FOLEY | Photo by CHRISTOPHE MACPHERSON
The fearless Congolese band Staff Benda Bilili (SBB) has gained notoriety for their captivating, energetic music and their contagious optimism. However, before the release of their first album Très Très Fort ("Very, Very Strong" in French) in 2009, these paraplegic men were street musicians who rehearsed with their makeshift instruments in the half-abandoned city zoo by day and slept on the streets of Kinshasa at night. Their success upon facing adversity within their community motivates all who hear their story. On October 30 at 8:00 p.m., UNC-Asheville will host a powerful, live performance.
SBB's new 11-track album, also recorded in the Democratic Republic of Congo like their first one, presents a different sound from their first. Generally speaking, their sound include elements of blues, reggae, and African rhumba; however, their sound has evolved as they traveled and more musicians joined the group.
Today, the band consists of seven vocalists: Ricky, Coco, Theo, Cavalier (also on bass), Montana (also drummer), Kabose, and Roger (also on tin-can-and-string). Since the last album, three new artists have joined in on the arrangements: Montana, Amalphi, and Randy, a young percussionist who played with the staff as a child.
A year after the release of the band's first album, French filmmakers Florent de la Tullaye and Renaud Barret released a feature-length documentary about the band called Benda Bilili. The band not only entertains, but spreads a powerful message that fights against discrimination for those with disabilities.
Ricky Leon Likabu Makodu and Coco Ngambali, two of the founding band members, faced rejection from other musical groups in DRC and thus found solace in their comraderie.
"I founded Staff Benda Bilili because I am disabled, but I was looking for a job. My able-bodied friends didn't want me. They told me, 'You are a disabled person, you can't dance.' This often affected me. But I also have disabled friends who used to play religious music together. I went out looking for them in order to do what I wanted," says Ricky. The group spreads a message of equality regardless of adverse circumstances (Benda Bilili literally meaning "look beyond appearances").
Having performed in Europe, Australia, and Japan, Staff Benda Bilili will make their U.S. debut with their upcoming tour this month. SBB just released their second album in September 2012, called Bouger le Monde ("Make the World Shake" in French). View their album preview online.
In explaining the title of their new album, Ricky describes them as inspiring other paraplegic musicians to embrace music and its energizing quality. Additionally, their success has allowed them to become voices for other important issues. "[W]e are messengers. We say that parents should take their children to the doctor to eradicate polo," Ricky explains. "Now in Kinchasa, there are at least 5 or 10 bands made up of disabled members. So you see that we are making the world shake."
In preparation for the concert, UNC-A's Disability Services Office will host a double feature event on Thursday, October 25. The two documentaries shown will be Murderball (a look at full-contact rugby players preparing to compete in the Paralympics Games) at 7:00 p.m. and Benda Bilili at 8:30 p.m. Both showings are free and open to the public. They will take place in the Highsmith Union Grotto and will be accompanied by refreshments and a discussion between the films.
Staff Benda Bilili will perform at UNC-Asheville on Tuesday, October 30 at 8:00 p.m. in Lipinsky Auditorium. UNC-Asheville is located at One University Heights. Tickets on sale now. For ticket information, visit online at cesap.unca.edu/events/staff-benda-bilili.