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Staff Benda Bilili is a group formed by Congolese street musicians, who at the time slept on the streets of Kinshasa and rehearsed in a half abandoned zoo. The core of the band consists of four senior singers and a guitarist, all of whom are disabled (they suffered from Polio when they were young) and move around in spectacularly customized tricycles.
With the release of their debut 2009 album Très Très Fort they instantaneously became one of the most symbolic African bands around. Released in movie theaters and on TV, Benda Bilili, the feature film dedicated to the group’s story was a smash at the Cannes Film Festival and Très Très Fort went on to win several awards and sell upwards of 150,000 copies. The band has toured nonstop for the last three years and has appeared at large festivals and concert halls in Europe, Australia and Japan.
Their latest album titled Bouger Le Monde was released on Sept. 3, 2012. On the Crammed Discs label is a collection of 11 splendid tracks that convey the gradual transformations the band has gone through since their 350+ performances. They’ve gotten louder and more rock-oriented and their level of musicianship has elevated significantly, which could be attributed to the addition of three new members.
Another innovation is that the vocal duties are now being shared by no less than seven singers. In addition to Coco, Ricky and Theo, who sang most of the tracks up until now, there is Cavalier, the bass player and Montana, the drummer, who joined the band right after the recording of their debut album. There’s also ‘Hype-man’ Kabose and Roger, who is the amazing tin-can-and-string soloist.
All are featured as lead vocalists on the album, which contains lyrics in no less than four Congolese languages plus customary sections in French. Lead guitarist Amalphi is a new recruit and young percussionist Randy, who played with the band when he was a kid but later vanished, is back in full force. Their music is rooted in rumba with the fundamentals of old-school rhythm and blues and reggae.
Staff Benda Bilili earned the 2009 Artist Award at Womex (World Music Expo).
The opening track on Bouger Le Monde is titled “Osali Mabe,” which means “You’ve Done the Wrong Thing.” It’s a jumpy and fun track and extremely danceable. The members’ chanting the lyrics harmoniously along with Randy’s masterful percussion work and Montana’s prevalent drumming makes this the perfect song to start the album off with.
“Sopeka” is the second track on the album, which means “Begging.” It begins slower than the previous track, but listeners will prominently hear Roger’s brilliant tin-can-and-string work. The use of this unique instrument and the sound it conveys really meets with the song’s title and drives home the message.
The third track is titled “Bilanga,” which means “The Field.” Randy’s swift percussion starts off the track then Amalphi’s guitar just begins ripping chords as Montana’s drumming brings a sort of heavy metal vibe to the song. Yet, the three instruments together emote a tribal-like flow, which could make listeners envision hearing this song as they run freely across a long stretch of open ground.
“Kaluna” is the fifth track on the album, which means “Gangs.” A quick-witted solo from Roger’s tin-can-and-string can be heard in the opening. Then, Montana’s drumming, Amalphi’s guitar and Cavalier’s bass chime in as the vocalists begin to harmonize along with the instruments. The combination of instruments and vocals bring forth a powerful message even if you don’t understand the lyrics.
The seventh track is titled “Libala Ya Mungwa,” which translates to mean “Wedding with Salt.” This track begins differently with Amalphi’s guitar announcing itself first. Then, Roger’s tin-can-and-string and Randy’s clever percussion play. Listeners could certainly imagine hearing this song at a reception where the newlyweds are happily dancing together for the first time in front of a crowd.
“Muru Esalaka” is the eleventh and final track on Bouger Le Monde. In English, it means “The Brains are OK.” It begins with Amalphi’s wistful guitar work then Randy’s rapid percussion begins and the distinctive sound of Roger’s tin-can-and-string enters the melody. With Randy’s percussion playing throughout the track, it’s a very movable, sprightly track which will make listeners want to stand up and dance.
In conclusion, Staff Benda Bilili’s Bouger Le Monde is a truly distinctive album by a group that has overcome incredible obstacles to bring music to the masses and achieve their musical dream.