Tres Tres Fort
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Tres Tres Fort (Bonus Version)
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It's safe to say there's never been a group quite like Staff Benda Bilili. Most of the bandmembers are polio victims confined to customized tricycles, except for the youngest, 17-year-old Roger Landu, who plays a one-string lute he made himself. Recorded in the Kinshasa zoo, where the members spend most of their time, using electricity stolen from another building, this is a disc filled with ambient noise -- and some wonderful music. Much of it, unsurprisingly, is Congolese rhumba, as on "Moto Moindo." The four singer/guitarists harmonize liltingly, but the real instrumental star is Landu, who flicks out riffs and solos on his instrument like a virtuoso. The band does mix up the sound, offering some light funk on the track named after themselves and on "Je T'Aime," and some reggae inflections on "Sala Mosala." There's a very positive attitude throughout the songs: these guys might be handicapped, but it's not going to stop them. The musicians are remarkable, the guerrilla recording just about perfect. But the real gift here is the music. by Chris Nickson All Music
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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.
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.