Image from: Benda Bilili (2010)

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Reviewed by GH89 GB / Joined GH89 2015
Benda Bilili
Benda Bilili
Benda Bilili
Congo, 2010, 86 minutes, SD Documentary, Music, African
Music has always enjoyed a direct relationship with cinema, of which such a coming together shows no signs abating. Like cinema, music has repeatedly churned out countless icons, immortalised in stories of excess, bedlam and often death. Such hedonism has always made for fascinating viewing, yet with Benda Bilili, we bring to you a music documentary with a difference.

Filmed almost entirely in Kinshasa, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Benda Bilili centres its focus on one of the cities most prominent bands, the aforementioned Staff Benda Bilili. Despite the majority of members being confined to heavily modified wheelchairs, riddled with paraplegia from prior bouts of polio, this does not stop the band’s leader Ricky Likabu and his gang from coming together and producing gorgeous, melodic driven music. Despite the bands fragility- most are homeless, their guitars lack a full set of six strings, whilst other instruments are home made, at no point does each individuals hardship deter them from their ambitions to be musicians. Such hardship does in fact become the very avenue of the bands inspiration, lyrically crafting their songs around the tales of the capital city in which they dwell.

As we watch the band struggle to obtain the recognition they feel they deserve, one of the most refreshing aspects of this documentary is the choice’s the directorial duo of Florant de la Tullaye and Renaud Barret make throughout. Firstly, and thankfully, they refuse to submit to the notion of poverty pornography, often shamelessly utilised to sensationalist effect when such projects are undertaken in areas of distinct poverty. Although almost impossible to completely disregard, Barret and Tullaye instead focus on the bands music and the individuals involved. The hardship the members of Staff Benda Bilili have and do suffer is obvious, yet it’s the determination, musical skill and vitality of those on screen that become the documentaries most prominent feature.

Uplifting, inspiring and occasionally very humorous, Benda Bilili is a documentary not only for those who are passionate about world music, but also for those who strive to learn of other cultures.
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