Deciphering Culture

Posts Tagged ‘Cinema

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

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