Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Website 'Withoutabox' Crashes Under Deluge of HBO Access Writing Submissions Website 'Withoutabox' Crashes Under Deluge of HBO Access Writing Submissions Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Studios to Shut Down in December (But is It a Good Thing?) Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Studios to Shut Down in December (But is It a Good Thing?) Steve McQueen Is Directing a Music Video for Kanye West's Latest Single 'All Day' Steve McQueen Is Directing a Music Video for Kanye West's Latest Single 'All Day' If You've Been Waiting for It to Get There, 'Half of a Yellow Sun' Is Now Streaming on Netflix If You've Been Waiting for It to Get There, 'Half of a Yellow Sun' Is Now Streaming on Netflix 2016 Oscar Outlook - 15 Black Actors, Actresses, Directors, Films That May Be in Contention Next Year 2016 Oscar Outlook - 15 Black Actors, Actresses, Directors, Films That May Be in Contention Next Year Premiering Tonight at 10pm: 2-Part Documentary 'Freeway: Crack in the System' on Al Jazeera America (Trailer) Premiering Tonight at 10pm: 2-Part Documentary 'Freeway: Crack in the System' on Al Jazeera America (Trailer) Trailer for Animated Feature Film Inspired by True Story of Afro-Arab Slave Who Became "Voice of Islam" Trailer for Animated Feature Film Inspired by True Story of Afro-Arab Slave Who Became "Voice of Islam" Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Aldis Hodge to Star in Scripted TV Series Based on the Underground Railroad Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Aldis Hodge to Star in Scripted TV Series Based on the Underground Railroad Mo'Nique Said She Was Paid $50,000 for 'Precious' + Responds to Lee Daniels "Play the Game" Advice (Video) Mo'Nique Said She Was Paid $50,000 for 'Precious' + Responds to Lee Daniels "Play the Game" Advice (Video) 'Cooley High' Writer and Cast Reflect on the Film 40 Years Later 'Cooley High' Writer and Cast Reflect on the Film 40 Years Later Attn. Actors: African American & Latino Men & Women Sought for Major Roles in Baz Luhrmann's Netflix Drama Series Attn. Actors: African American & Latino Men & Women Sought for Major Roles in Baz Luhrmann's Netflix Drama Series So What’s Byron Allen's $20 Billion Lawsuit Against Comcast, Time Warner, Al Sharpton & the NAACP all About? So What’s Byron Allen's $20 Billion Lawsuit Against Comcast, Time Warner, Al Sharpton & the NAACP all About? Nick Cannon Gets Behind New Live-Action Musical Series, 'Make It Pop,' for Upcoming TV Season Nick Cannon Gets Behind New Live-Action Musical Series, 'Make It Pop,' for Upcoming TV Season A New Edition Biopic Might Be Coming to a Theater Near You If This Fan-Made Trailer Goes Viral A New Edition Biopic Might Be Coming to a Theater Near You If This Fan-Made Trailer Goes Viral HBO Seeks Diverse, Emerging Writers for HBOAccess Writing Fellowship HBO Seeks Diverse, Emerging Writers for HBOAccess Writing Fellowship Check Out These Photos of Mo'Nique, Queen Latifah, Khandi Alexander & Michael K. WIlliams From HBO's Bessie Smith Bio + Premiere Date Set Check Out These Photos of Mo'Nique, Queen Latifah, Khandi Alexander & Michael K. WIlliams From HBO's Bessie Smith Bio + Premiere Date Set Watch Footage From Marlon Wayans' Richard Pryor Audition Tape Watch Footage From Marlon Wayans' Richard Pryor Audition Tape Aaron McGruder Finally Explains Why He Left 'The Boondocks' Aaron McGruder Finally Explains Why He Left 'The Boondocks' Netflix Explains Why It Doesn't Always Have That Film Or TV Show You Really Want To See (Video) Netflix Explains Why It Doesn't Always Have That Film Or TV Show You Really Want To See (Video) Tichina Arnold Says She Talked To Martin Lawrence About Doing A 'Martin' Movie... Tichina Arnold Says She Talked To Martin Lawrence About Doing A 'Martin' Movie...

DVD Review: 'Benda Bilili' (Kinshasa Band w/ Global Following Comprised of Homeless Handicapped Artists)

Shadow and Act By Wendy Okoi-Obuli | Shadow and Act August 12, 2013 at 5:36PM

To be honest, I was in two minds as to whether to actually go and see this. The film description starts:"Staff Benda Bilili are a band of homeless, disabled Congolese and street children playing both conventional and improvised instruments, and rise from desperate circumstances to international acclaim."
0
Benda Bilili

To be honest, I was in two minds as to whether to actually go and see this. The film description starts:

"Staff Benda Bilili are a band of homeless, disabled Congolese and street children playing both conventional and improvised instruments, and rise from desperate circumstances to international acclaim."

Hmm...

OK, call me cynical, but cue sighing and rolling of the eyes on my part. Here we go...! Street urchins high on drugs and the abandoned disabled of DR Congo fighting for survival amidst the poverty, corruption and chaos that constitutes the average concrete jungle (or usally the zinc or aluminium forest) of urban Africa... So when the film opens with a young boy boasting about how easy (and right) it would be to "comb" the white guy filming of his camera and all his millions, I slunk deep into my seat and expected the worst. Bring on the cliches, I thought, let em rip! Former child soldiers, sex slaves, abandoned orphans, prostitutes... all seemingly devoid of any deep human qualities, thereby making their desperately depraved destitution all the more fascinating to watch; and all to a colourful and vibrant African soundtrack to help lift the spirits in the face of having to watch so much courage as last resort in the face of adversity!

Wrong!! 

Yes, the film does feature street kids (shégués), some of whom may well have been former child soldiers, and the band, Staff Benda Bilili (beyond appearances), was founded by four disabled, wheelchair-bound (well, customised tricycle bound) men - Ricky, Coco, Junana and Théo Coude - who, apart from having to deal with the ravages of polio as children, have had to spend most of their lives eking out a living on the mean streets of Kinshasa, even as they're shunned by general society. Be prepared to feel an initial discomfort at their lot in life. Be prepared to have any elation suddenly cut short by the news of tragedy. Be prepared to worry about whether it's alright to laugh at the so many humurous moments that pepper the film, and feel free to (like when one boy tries to explain to another what's so special about this country called Europe that everyone, himself included, wants to go to). If you really want, be prepared to pity them, though they certainly aren't asking for your pity. Most of all, however, be prepared to meet, first hand, poor Africans portrayed as being very human, who are also passionate and expressive musicians who take their art very seriously, but without being seriously sanctimonious about it. 

The film follows the band over the course of fives years, when the film's French directors, Renaud Barret and Florent de La Tullaye (who also ended up being their producers)initially heard about them while filming another project on urban Congolese music, and charts their progress from the rag-tag outfit that practiced in Kinshasa zoo, to their successful European tour, culminating in Staff Benda Bilili winning the 2009 Artist Award at Womex (World Music Expo).

The stars of the film have to be Ricky and Roger, a 13 year old boy introduced to the band by the directors, who Ricky nurtures and takes under his wing. While Ricky is very much the spirit of the band, holding it together despite the pitfalls and disappointments, it's through Roger, who we see grow up on screen. From the cute, determined but self-conscious child prodigy who wows the band at his audition with his self-made satongé (a one- string guitar made with a wooden bow stuck into a tin can and held together at both ends by a single guitar string but which produces an amazing range of sounds), to the um... cute (but in a different way) 18 year old superstar playing to European crowds in a manner that would make Jimi Hendrix proud, it's Rogher who personifies the band's progression and metamorphosis.  Oh, and I'd be remiss if I didn't mention his ghetto fabulous (as in South Central LA) garb and he exits his remote village to rejoin the band after a hiatus. 

And let's not forget the music! Apparently, the filmmakers embedded themselves with their subjects, living with them in the streets, sleeping, as they did, on cardboard, with intermittent trips back to France, but returning wit more money to ensure they recorded and released their first album/DVD, Tres, Tres, Fort, and eventually following them, to 5 star luxury in Europe. With refrains like "sex machine" in one song, with Fela (or perhaps Femi) Kuti infectiousness, Hendrix-like flourishes and, naturally, nods to Papa Wemba (world famous soukous musician), their musical influences are vast and varied. The music is certainly intoxicating enough to entrance and excite foreign audiences (they toured Europe, the US and are currently in the Far East), but their lyrics speak of their lives and the lives of others like them - yes, former child soldiers, abandoned orphans, prostitutes... marginalised members of society who have little to thank their national leaders for, and whose community spirit helps foster the kind of strength of dignity you can only but admire, even as you despair (whatever concerns I thought I had about my own life suddenly seemed really pathetic in comparison).

Benda Bilili! premiered at 2011's Cannes Film Festival, opening Director’s Fortnight and, with the whirlwind success of the band, was hotly tipped to be the next Buena Vista Social Club.  There's sex (well, mention of it), drugs and rock n roll, with more than a dollop of unglamorous reality to balance out the heady highs. 

See it if you get the chance!

This article is related to: DVD and VOD


Shadow & ActNewsletter