Staff Benda Bilili is a band of musicians from Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The band members are homeless. They live in and around the city zoo. The band includes men with a disability. Most are polio survivors.
Tres Tres Fort is the band's first album. Its release made the group internationally famous. The band now tours music festivals around the world.
Staff Benda Bilili gives a voice to the large population of homeless people with a disability in Africa. Most live with little or no government support. Members of the band get around in homemade wheelchairs. The wheelchairs have been converted from old motorbikes and bicycles.
Many of the band members play homemade instruments. Their drum kit consists of two plastic chairs and some broken cement blocks. The drums are played with sticks and brushes made from reeds.
Roger is one of the band's soloists. He plays an instrument called a satonge which he invented himself. The instrument is made from a guitar string strung between a tin can and a wooden bow. The group discovered him as a teenager busking on the streets. His amazing solos sound like a cross between an electric guitar and a plucked violin.
The songs on Tres Tres Fort explore issues important to members of the band. The songs discuss the rights of people with a disability. Disability prevention is tackled in the songs Polio and Moziki (mosquito). Polio also encourages investment in the education of people with a disability.
The songs also explore topics like homelessness and independence. Tonkara (cardboard) encourages understanding of the plight of the homeless. Moto Moindo (black man) calls for increased African independence. Marguerite describes families being torn apart by the separation of the Democratic Republic of Congo with its neighbouring country.
Staff Benda Bilili's history and musical themes make the band interesting. But the real reason for their rise to fame is the quality of their music. The music features complex rhythms and a laid-back feel. Tres Tres Fort makes you want to dance. There is an infectious spirit in the music. You will want to hear more.
Tres Tres Fort was recorded at the band's home in the gardens of Kinshasa zoo. If you listen carefully you can sometimes hear the rumble of traffic and the chirping of toads in the background. These sounds add to the effect of the album. Listeners can almost feel themselves sitting beneath the trees on a warm African night.
The album also features a guest appearance from Tandjolo Premier. He is a member of the famous Congalese band the Kasai Allstars. He plays a lokombe, a traditional giant slit drum.
Benda Bilili means
look beyond appearances. This album certainly encourages listeners to take another look at the experience of homeless people with a disability living in Africa.