Benda Bilili means "look beyond appearances" - literally: "put forward what is hidden."
One of the great global success stories of the past three 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.
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.
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.