Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Meet the 3 Leads for the Next 'Star Wars' Movie (John Boyega Is One of Them) + Watch New Teaser Meet the 3 Leads for the Next 'Star Wars' Movie (John Boyega Is One of Them) + Watch New Teaser Quentin Tarantino's 'H8ful Eight' Gets a Teaser Trailer (Samuel L. Jackson, Belinda Owino) Quentin Tarantino's 'H8ful Eight' Gets a Teaser Trailer (Samuel L. Jackson, Belinda Owino) Here Are the Cities & Theaters in Which Patrik-Ian Polk's Award-Winning Drama 'Blackbird' Will Open Here Are the Cities & Theaters in Which Patrik-Ian Polk's Award-Winning Drama 'Blackbird' Will Open Trailer: Pilot Project 'First Gen' (The Trials and Tribulations of Being a First Gen Nigerian-American) Trailer: Pilot Project 'First Gen' (The Trials and Tribulations of Being a First Gen Nigerian-American) TV One Shores Up 2015-2016 Slate with 8 New Series, 16 Original Movies + New Production Partnerships TV One Shores Up 2015-2016 Slate with 8 New Series, 16 Original Movies + New Production Partnerships 'Walking Dead' Creator Says Rick and Morgan's Reunion Will Be "The Spine" of Season 6 'Walking Dead' Creator Says Rick and Morgan's Reunion Will Be "The Spine" of Season 6 Abderrahmane Sissako's 'Timbuktu' Quietly Grosses Over $1 Million in USA Box Office - Rare for an African Film Abderrahmane Sissako's 'Timbuktu' Quietly Grosses Over $1 Million in USA Box Office - Rare for an African Film Rumorville: Ernie Hudson Circling T'Chaka Role in Marvel's 'Black Panther' Movie Rumorville: Ernie Hudson Circling T'Chaka Role in Marvel's 'Black Panther' Movie Watch Cuba Gooding Jr. Wield a Gun and Snort Coke in his Underwear in Clip from 'Big Time in Hollywood, FL' Watch Cuba Gooding Jr. Wield a Gun and Snort Coke in his Underwear in Clip from 'Big Time in Hollywood, FL' People in Chicago Are Not Happy with Spike Lee’s 'Chiraq' People in Chicago Are Not Happy with Spike Lee’s 'Chiraq' Check Out the First Trailer for HBO's New Dramedy Series 'Ballers' Starring Dwayne Johnson Check Out the First Trailer for HBO's New Dramedy Series 'Ballers' Starring Dwayne Johnson The Cast for Nate Parker's Nat Turner Project Is Set, with a May Shoot Scheduled. Let's Go! The Cast for Nate Parker's Nat Turner Project Is Set, with a May Shoot Scheduled. Let's Go! First Black James Bond Villain Says "Political Correctness Be Damned. 007 Should NOT Be Black" First Black James Bond Villain Says "Political Correctness Be Damned. 007 Should NOT Be Black" 'Tales of the Grim Sleeper,' on Serial Killer Who Murdered Black Women for 25 Years, Debuts April 27 on HBO 'Tales of the Grim Sleeper,' on Serial Killer Who Murdered Black Women for 25 Years, Debuts April 27 on HBO Apparently, Many of You Aren't Pleased With the "All-New" 'Single Ladies'... What's Going on? Apparently, Many of You Aren't Pleased With the "All-New" 'Single Ladies'... What's Going on? What to Expect in Season 2 of 'Empire' (Less Opulence; Spike Lee May Direct, Oprah May Guest-Star, More) What to Expect in Season 2 of 'Empire' (Less Opulence; Spike Lee May Direct, Oprah May Guest-Star, More) Why Was Janet Hubert (Aunt Viv) Really Replaced on 'Fresh Prince of Bel-Air'? Buzzfeed Investigates Why Was Janet Hubert (Aunt Viv) Really Replaced on 'Fresh Prince of Bel-Air'? Buzzfeed Investigates 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...

Review - "Benda Bilili!" (Documentary On Congolese Street Musicians)

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act October 2, 2011 at 6:50AM

It opened this weekend in New York City, and will gradually expand to other cities around the country, each of the next few weeks... MsWOO saw it at the London Film Festival last fall, and reviewed it then; I'm reposting that review here for obvious reasons...
1

It opened this weekend in New York City, and will gradually expand to other cities around the country, each of the next few weeks... MsWOO saw it at the London Film Festival last fall, and reviewed it then; I'm reposting that review here for obvious reasons...

To be honest, I was in two minds as to whether to actually go and see this. The LFF blurb 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 consitutes 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 Kinshasha, even as they're shunned by general society. Be prepared to feel an intial 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 Kinshasha 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 this year’s Cannes Film Festival, opening Director’s Fortnight and, with the whirlwind success of the band, is 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!

Benda Bilili! Promo from Trinity Films.

This article is related to: In Theaters


Shadow & ActNewsletter