Deciphering Culture

Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

For Staff Benda Bilili, disability is just a state of mind

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Most of the members of Staff Benda Billi, a pop band from Kinshasa (Congo), are homeless polio victims who live in or around Kinshasa’s zoo. The founders of the band formed the ensemble because other local musicians refused to play with them. The membership of the band soon was supplemented by street kids, including an 18 year-old boy who plays guitar-like solos on an electrified one-stringed lute he fashioned from a tin can. In the last few years, Staff Benda Billi has found success at home and abroad with successful albums and now a documentary Benda Bilili, which debuted at Cannes this week. Check out the review of the film by Will Gompertz of the BBC:

Cannes: Standing ovation for Benda Bilili

Will Gompertz

Cannes: There are over 1,000 films at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, which means it’s horribly possible to spend your entire time watching duds. Cannes is a game of chance; we hacks are like metal detector enthusiasts who go out each weekend with hopes of finding treasure but know the odds are stacked against them.

benda_bilili_2.jpgWell, on Thursday, just 24 hours after the festival opened, I struck gold.

It was in the relative backwater of the Director’s Fortnight that I stumbled on a French documentary called Benda Bilili. It opens with a middle-aged man with polio dancing on a dusty street in the Congolese city of Kinshasa.

The story then moves onto its main subject: a group of musicians that goes by the name of Staff Benda Bilili. The words “benda bilili” mean “beyond appearances”; for this band of brothers, it’s a statement with profound meaning.

The group’s original core is made up of three paraplegic middle-aged street-dwellers who live in cardboard boxes in this lawless city and stay sane by making music. They are joined by a 12-year-old drummer and by Roger, a 13-year-old runaway who makes music by connecting a tin can to a stick with a piece of nylon. (to read the rest, click here)

Written by Jeffrey Callen

May 14, 2010 at 5:22 pm

Music & the Struggle to be Human — Patrice Lumumba (@History is Made at Night)

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From History is Made at Night: The politics of dancing and musicking, a post asserting the primary place of music in the struggle to be human.

O Music, it was you permitted us to lift our face and peer into the eyes of future liberty

Patrice Lumumba (1925-1961) was a leading figure in the struggle for the independence of Congo from the Belgian Empire. He briefly became first prime minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1960 before being overthrown and later murdered by Belgian/CIA backed forces. The following extract is from his poem May our People Triumph (full poem here). In it Lumumba puts music and dance (and specifically jazz) at the centre of the struggle to be human in conditions of slavery and colonialism:

‘Twas then the tomtom rolled from village unto village,
And told the people that another foreign slave ship
Had put off on its way to far-off shores
Where God is cotton, where the dollar reigns as King.
There, sentenced to unending, wracking labour,
Toiling from dawn to dusk in the relentless sun,
They taught you in your psalms to glorify
Their Lord, while you yourself were crucified to hymns
That promised bliss in the world of Hereafter,
While you—you begged of them a single boon:
That they should let you live—to live, aye—simplylive.
And by a fire your dim, fantastic dreams
Poured out aloud in melancholy strains,
As elemental and as wordless as your anguish.
It happened you would even play, be merry
And dance, in sheer exuberance of spirit:
And then would all the splendour of your manhood,
The sweet desires of youth sound, wild with power,
On strings of brass, in burning tambourines.
And from that mighty music the beginning
Of jazz arose, tempestuous, capricious,
Declaring to the whites in accents loud
That not entirely was the planet theirs.
O Music, it was you permitted us
To lift our face and peer into the eyes
Of future liberty, that would one day be ours.

Written by Jeffrey Callen

May 8, 2010 at 10:16 am

Stars Campaign for Inter-Racial Friendship: rock against racism in the 1950s?

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Reposted from History is made at night

Jazz musician John Dankworth died last month. As this BBC film from 1959 shows, one of his early achievements was to chair the Stars Campaign for Inter-Racial Friendship, founded in 1959 to combat the activities of the White Defence League. As well as Dankworth, members of the campaign included Cleo Laine, Tommy Steele, Lonnie Donegan (looking very like a young Billy Bragg), Humphrey Lyttelton, and folk singer Karl Dallas.

As described at Love Music Hate Racism, Colin Jordan’s White Defence League later merged as part of the first British National Party in 1960, with Jordan’s former comrade John Tyndall later going on to form the National Front and then the current BNP. Jordan, who was once jailed for trying to burn down synagogues, was later the fuhrer of the British Movement leading a motley crew of neo-nazi skinheads to nowhere in the 1980s.

Written by Jeffrey Callen

March 24, 2010 at 9:52 am

Youssou N’Dour : From Dakar To Kingston – United Reggae

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Reposted from UNITED REGGAE

Senegalese artist releases a new album celebrating the relationship between Reggae and the Motherland.

Youssou N’Dour is one of the most famous and great African musicians. He’s a renowned singer, songwriter, and composer who began his career at only 12 ! The king of M’balax is now coming with a new album recorded between Paris and the Tuff Gong Studios in Jamaica alongside legendary musicians like Tyrone Downie (from The Wailers), saxophonist Dean Fraser, guitarist Earl “Chinna” Smith, drummer Shaun “Mark” Samson and bassist Michael Fletcher.

This new album called Dakar-Kingston connects Jamaica, Senegal and the whole Africa. It features 13 tracks including several reggae recuts of Youssou N’Dour classics, a tribute to Bob Marley and special guests like Ayo, Patrice and Morgan Heritage. Check out the EPK of this new effort out on CD since March 8.

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Written by Jeffrey Callen

March 20, 2010 at 8:32 pm

Dancing in the kitchen (from History is made at night)

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Nice little photo piece from the History is Made at Night (the politics of dancing) blog. As anyone who’s been to a house party knows, the communal hub / party center is the kitchen.

Monday, February 01, 2010

In the kitchen at parties

I like the places where the night does not mean an end
where smiles break free and surprise is your friend
and dancing goes on in the kitchen until dawn
to my favorite song that has no end
(Bonny Prince Billy, You remind me of something)

Written by Jeffrey Callen

February 4, 2010 at 12:34 pm

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