14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on May 23, 2009
I first heard about this incredible street band from the Congo back in mid-2009 when they were featured on an NPR World Cafe feature. I was immediately interested when I heard about the background of the musicians: the group is formed from a combination of older men crippled by polio, and street children, many of whom were orphaned by AIDS or the the country's civil war, which is estimated to have killed more people than the genocide of the Nazis.
The ensemble's name - Staff Benda Bilili - can be roughly translated to mean "look beyond appearances," and it absolutely holds true--the group's music holds no indications that it was made by cripples and street urchins. The music is of an infectious nature; there is some background percussion, but the bulk of it is formed by the four senior guitar players and singers, while the kids play background instruments. Notable, too, is the solo instrument: a single string lute-like instrument crafted out of a tin can, a guitar string, and a thin piece of wood that forms its neck.
Although the lyrics are not in English, and despite the upbeat rhythm of most of the songs, it is not difficult to hear the hardship and pain in the voices of the singers. While there are no reliable translations of all the songs available, their songs have addressed concepts such as the poverty in the country and the widespread disease, and they have also written a very successful song to encourage people to vote in the country's 2006 election.
The music itself is upbeat and vivid; it was recorded in a zoo around which its members live, so background crickets and environmental noises make their way into the songs, which fosters a sense of proximity that makes the music even greater. The genre is hard to define; it incorporates elements from myriad music traditions, including rumba, soul, blues, and reggae, and mixes them into a single, beautiful album. There exists, in doing album reviews, the temptation to a break down of an album's highlight songs, but with "Tres Tres Fort," that would be a disservice--each song is a beautiful creation, deserving its own individual praise.
An absolute must-buy if you're... well, a person who listens to music.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on August 2, 2009
Forget the Buena Vista Social Club. If you want a heart warming tale of musical success in the face of extreme adversity then buy this CD and listen to the sound of these paraplegic street musicians from Kinshasa, Congo and their rhythm and blues, funk inflected rumba.
Recorded out in the open, mainly in the zoological garden in Kinshasa using 12 microphones, a laptop and a 100m mains cable stealing electricity from a deserted bar this album captures the sound of Staff Benda Bilili on their home turf.
Comprising of 4 senior singer/guitarists perched on their customised tricycles, a younger rhythm section and 17 year old Roger who uses a unique one stringed electric lute he made himself using a length of electrical wire attached to a small wooden bow and then inserted in a metal dried milk can which he calls a Satonge, this album is raw yet oozes soul, positivity and vibrancy.
`Je T'Aime', my personal favourite, takes it's cue from James Brown with it's infectious groove, `sex machine' refrain, Roger's Hendrix like riffing and a soul vocal that makes me want to cry and dance simultaneously.
`Polio' is a slow heartfelt, yet amazingly unbitter, appeal to the listening public recommending vaccination against poliomyelitis and coming from a band, half of whom have lost the use of their legs because of the disease, it's a message that carries some serious weight.
As with much Rumba music you are never far away from the sound of Cuba which the Congolese musicians of the 50's and 60's reappropriated and this is most evident on the laid back `Sala Keba' as is a love of reggae on the skanking `Sala Mosala'.
Mostly the album consists of up-tempo dance numbers designed to make you shake it and that's what I suggest you do whilst giving thanks that you are able to.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on April 21, 2009
Wow! What a testament to the power of expression through music.. This group, made up of disabled polio victims and abandoned street kids (source wikipedia), is nothing short of amazing. The music is excellent!!
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on June 2, 2009
Forget the back story, which is pretty amazing in it's own right. This is an outstanding album, from end to end. The next Buena Vista Social Club, Congolese style.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on April 21, 2012
What an inspirational group! If you love their music, check out the documentary "Benda Bilili!" (2011). It captures five years in the band's life, from their formation to their first performances.
on August 26, 2010
This CD is incredible. The first time I listened to it I had been in a pretty bad mood. I popped this CD in my car's CD player and was immediately transported. You cannot listen to this music without nodding your head and jamming along! It is complex and layered, but never loses that funky, laid back beat. It would be wonderful stuff even without the back story of the musicians. When I read the liner notes after listening to the CD, I thought, "Wow. What do I ever have to whine about? These guys have done everything musically and they have done it with nothing - not even a roof over their heads!"