One of the great global success stories of the past few years, Staff Benda Bilili have become an unstoppable force. A group of street musicians who used to live & play around the grounds of the zoo in Kinshasa, Congo, they make music of astonishing power and beauty. The band’s mesmerising rumba-rooted grooves, overlaid with vibrant vocals and extraordinary tin-can guitar solos, have been dazzling audiences and media the world over, on record, on stage and on the big screen.

[Get Staff Benda Bilili downloads & CDs here]
[concert dates at the bottom of this page]


Four paraplegic singer/guitarists form the core of the band, assisted by a  ‘hype man’ on crutches who whips the crowd into a frenzy, and backed by an all-acoustic rhythm section pounding out tight grooves. Then, on top of everything, are those inimitable and infectious solos performed by a teenage prodigy on a one-string electric lute he designed and built himself out of a tin can.

Staff Benda Bilili ripped through Europe for the first time in late 2009, spreading the word about debut album 'Très Très Fort' with one of the most talked-about tours of 2009. The continent's media responded in a chorus of praise, with top TV shows (including BBC Newsnight), broadsheet newspapers and world-renowned radios lavishing the band and their album with attention and end-of-year plaudits.

“Benda Bilili”, a documentary film on the band shot over several years by French filmmakers Florent de la Tullaye and Renaud Barret, premiered at the prestigious “Director’s Fortnight” event at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival. The band proved to be one of the sensations of the festival, with reviews describing them as “The Kinshasa social club” (The Times), and the film as “a rousing depiction of unimaginable poverty and transcendent resolve” (Hollywood Reporter) as well as “a remarkable documentary and an amazing music film" (Telegraph). The film went on to be released across Europe and the US, garnered a significant success, and contributed to making Staff Benda Bilili one of the most emblematic African bands around the world.

Staff has gained worldwide recognition including the 2009 WOMEX artist of the year award and voted as “Best Group” in the Songlines Music Awards 2010. Since 2009 Staff have been touring extensively in Europe, Japan and Australia, playing many of the largest festivals incl. Glastonbury, WOMAD, Roskilde among numerous others.

Staff Benda Bilili consider themselves as the real journalists of Kinshasa, as their songs document and comment events of everyday life. One of their key messages is: the only real handicaps are not in the body but in the mind.

Benda Bilili means "look beyond appearances" - literally: "put forward what is hidden".

Staff Benda Bilili have released their second album, "Bouger le Monde" in Sept 2012


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This extraordinary group was encountered in 2005 by Florent de La Tullaye and Renaud Barret, two young French filmmakers who were shooting a series of films on the many musicians and other amazing figures living and working in the urban jungle of Kinshasa. They were instantly blown away by Staff Benda Bilili, and quickly decided to devote an entire feature film to the band. They also introduced the band to Crammed Discs in-house producer Vincent Kenis. Crammed decided to sign the group, produce the album and release it to the world.

The resulting album, “Tres Tres Fort”, was recorded in the grounds of Kinshasa Zoo under the guidance of Vincent Kenis, then mixed in Brussels. So, this remarkable musical adventure commenced. The media went crazy, and Staff Benda Bilili have been featured and praised in newspapers worldwide. International festivals are queuing up to book them, and the band's first extensive European tour took place in the autumn of 2009.

Staff Benda Bilili were introduced to the British and US musicians who came to visit Kinshasa as part of the Africa Express trip in Nov. 2007, and won the hearts of the likes of Massive Attack and Damon Albarn, with whom they jammed. Here's an account of that meeting, as published in UK daily newspaper The Independent:

It was a perfect moment, symbolising the purpose of the Africa Express trip to the Congo: some of the most celebrated musicians in Africa and the West playing with members of Staff Benda Bilili, a group formed by homeless and disabled polio victims living in the grounds of Kinshasa Zoo. It was unrehearsed, teetered on the edge of disaster, yet inspirational. (...) The band swayed in time in their antiquated wheelchairs, while a couple of kids danced around. It was achingly lovely music, created out of the most terrible adversity. 'That was beautiful,' said [Massive Attack's] Robert del Naja at the end, visibly moved. 'It was worth coming all this way just to hear that'.


Background

It is said that Kinshasa hosts more than 40 000 abandoned street kids, or sheges. The name supposedly hints at the Che-Guevaresque child soldiers who seized the capital in 1997, but the story might have been forged later as a reminder of Laurent Désiré Kabila's connection with Che Guevara in the Sixties. Fleeing poverty in the suburbs and family violence, sheges can be seen everywhere in centre ville, waxing shoes, guarding vehicles in parking lots, selling pills, cola nuts and roasted crickets, slaloming on the boulevard between brand new SUVs, U.N armored vehicles, battered taxis, and customized tricycles driven by intrepid paraplegic pilots.

When handicapés (disabled people) were exempted from customs tax in the Seventies, many turned their vehicles into pickups and used them to make a living transporting goods across the river between Kinshasa and its sister capital Brazzaville. Handicapés form the second most important group among the street outcasts of centre ville. Regrouped since colonial times around a hostel near the general hospital, they have a reputation for being loud, fearless, well-educated, and well-organised in a powerful syndicate called Plateforme. Many sheges benefit from their protection and advice.

Band line-up

Ricky Likabu - leader, vocals
Coco Ngambali - vocals, guitar
Theo Nsituvuidi - vocals, guitar
Djunana Tanga-Suele - vocals
Zadis Mbulu Nzungu - vocals
Kabamba Kabose Kasungo - vocals
Paulin ‘Cavalier’ Kiara-Maigi - bass
Roger Landu - satonge, vocals
Cubain Kabeya - drums, vocals
Randy Buda - percussion

More on some of the band members

One of the most prominent band members is lead vocalist RICKY. Now 55, he’s the founding member of Staff Benda Bilili, and keeps the band together with his energy and ingenuity. Known as a tough guy around his neighbourhood, he used to run all kinds of shady businesses, and still sells cigarettes and alcohol outside nightclubs straight from his tricyle. He also sometimes works as a mechanic and a tailor. He often sleeps on the street on tonkara (French verlan slang for cardboard) but always manages to dress very smartly and believes that a man must be suka (elegant).

COCO is 50. He sings, plays the guitar and composes many of the band’s songs. He rides the most customized motorbike of them all but never has enough money for gas so he’s always accompanied by two or three sheges who push it through the potholes in exchange for food. Sometimes working as a welder, Coco is very physically strong, and regularly wins arm-wrestling contests. Coco has 7 children of his own and lives on the outskirts of town but only returns home on weekends, when he’s made enough money.

THEO, the soprano singer, is a fan of James Brown and Bob Marley; in a country where cultural autarcy was once set up as a dogma, this rarity signals a realitively well-to-do background. His family lost everything with the fall of the Mobutu regime; he then had to hit the streets and became an electrician, which in Kinshasa is a semi-magical, Robin Hood-esque occupation consisting of redistributing power between neighborhoods by running long makeshift cables in the mud at night.

ROGER is 17. A former shege, he was adopted by Ricky many years ago. He created his own instrument, the satonge, which consists of a guitar string tensed between the drum of a tin can and a wooden bow inserted in its base. Melodies are created by plucking the string with one hand while the other moves the bow in and out, changing the tension of the string. The members of the band noticed Roger’s uncanny musical talent and proceeded to teach him song structures and melodies. He quickly learned to play breathtaking electric guitar-like solos on this simple instrument, becoming a genuine virtuoso.

VIDEO LINKS

Press quotes 

"As tonight's show proves, Staff Benda Bilili would be a remarkable band regardless of their background. Not only do they sound incredible, they exude an inscrutable cool ... In the crowd, jaws drop, as well they should in the presence of such an extraordinary band" -Guardian, 5 stars

"There is movement all over the stage: four pirouetting wheelchairs, and crutches used by mighty arms to swing on. Another of the band vaults from his wheelchair and spins on half-legs, ululating with a dazzling grin. All have turned apparent weakness to strength long ago... Like all the finest African bands, Staff Benda Bilili's swirling complexity removes the option to do anything but dance ... Havana cantina, Kinshasa slum, psychedelic club or London arts centre – this crack outfit would tear the roof off anywhere."   -The Independent, 4 stars

"With their harmonies, bubbling rap and call-and-response chanting, they turn the Barbican into a joyous cauldron"   -NME 

"...Their first London show packed the Barbican with an audience that, six months ago, had never heard of them ... seconds after they started playing, none of the back story mattered. They were, without qualification or allowance, the most exciting band to emerge from Africa in years ... Very, very strong. Very, very great. Very, very loud"   -Financial Times

"The album from Staff Benda Bilili has already generated a degree of excitement to rival the adulation lavished on Malian pop stars Amadou & Mariam" -The Times

"In world music circles, this eight-piece from the Congo are the most talked about band of the year"  -Daily Telegraph

"Exotic and extraordinary their history may be, but Staff Benda Bilili are not here for refined anthropological analysis, they're a thrilling live band ripe to tear up any festival or dancehall that their touring schedule throws at them" -The Arts Desk

News

New line-up + new shows...


+ remixes by SKIP&DIE !

Staff Benda Bilili Tour Cancelled


We have been informed that the upcoming March/April tour by Staff Benda Bilili has sadly been cancelled.

Shaking the other side of the globe, Staff Benda Billi continue to "Make the World Shake" on their first North American tour!


Rumba-rock artists Staff Benda Bilili take their positive sounds and endless energy to cities across the continent, including an incredible show at El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles (pictured above). Click for dates...

STAFF BENDA BILILI : Behind the Scenes


Staff Benda Bilili Get ready to "make the world shake" by sharing with us scenes from the creation of their new album "Bouger le Monde !" WATCH THE VIDEO HERE!

STAFF BENDA BILILI announce their new album!


STAFF BENDA BILILI are set to "make the world shake" with their new album set for release in September. Listen to the first single here!

Staff Benda Billi are back & stronger than ever before!


Coming back "very strong" with a gala premier in London! Video!

Congotronics Vinyl Box Set has arrived !


This strictly limited edition contains 7 vinyls (incl. the new Konono) and downloads of all Congotronics albums

Staff Benda Bilili triumph at the Cannes Film Festival !


The full-length film about the band is set to become a worldwide sensation

Staff Benda Bilili rocking Europe!


In what has become one of the most talked-about tours of 2009, Congolese rumba-funk warriors Staff Benda Bilili have been ripping through Europe with a string of scintillating live shows.

Live Dates

27/11/2014
FR
Grande Synthe
06/12/2014
GB
Liverpool
16/12/2014
FR
Perigueux
Theatre

Releases

STAFF BENDA BILILI - Bouger le Monde !
STAFF BENDA BILILI
Bouger le Monde !
craw81
STAFF BENDA BILILI - Tres Tres Fort
STAFF BENDA BILILI
Tres Tres Fort
craw51

SOUNDS, Visuals & More

Contains videos & live footage, free mp3s & streams, pictures, press quotes & clippings, and maybe even personal contributions from the artist.