Staff Benda Bilili, Bouger Le Monde!

Richard Gehr

By Richard Gehr

on 09.04.12 in Reviews

The Congolese octet Staff Benda Bilili has five polio-disabled street musicians at its core, and on their excellent sophomore effort, Bouger Le Monde!, bittersweet autobiographical glimpses of their struggle peek their way in toward the end: In “Souci” (“Worries”), a slow acoustic rumba in the tradition of West Africa legends like Franco and Tabu Ley Rochereau, three members sing individually about going on the road and leaving their families’ troubles behind. “They thought a band with disabled people would never work,” declares bandleader Ricky Likabu Makodu in the loping “Apandjokwetu” (“This Is Our Place”). And in “Ne Me Quitte Pas” (“Don’t Leave Me”), Roger Landu, the band’s dazzling soloist on a homemade one-stringed electric satonge, confesses that “many people…tell me that I should leave the band, but I will never quit!”

A fresh, heartfelt take on 20th-century Congolese rumba

However, SBB transcend their inspiring backstory with their music, which blends gritty-sweet harmonies, clattering percussion, and Landu’s aforementioned primitive-futurist guitar sound: a needling sine wave that oscillates between Ernie Isley and a pedal steel. In the end, Staff Benda Bilili is nothing more nor less than a fresh, heartfelt take on 20th-century Congolese rumba; and a particularly fine one at that.