A documentary on the Congolese rhythm'n'blues band Staff Benda Bilili
Kinshasa is the largest city in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It’s rated as one of the most dangerous cities in the world in terms of crime with a spiraling homeless problem that includes over 20,000 children under the age of 18 living rough (according to 2004 figures). In the grounds of the city’s zoo live Ricky Lickabu and Coco Ngambali, the founding members of disabled Congolese rhythm’n’blues band Staff Benda Bilili. They are backed by a younger rhythm section of abandoned street kids who they protect. In many ways they are these children’s hope and salvation, and they are certainly the only youth project in the area.
Renaud Barret and Florent de La Tullaye’s heartfelt documentary follows the group from their first studio recordings, to local and international recognition and finally on their European tour. The music is great and the filmmakers work hard to maintain an interest in each band member’s remarkable and inspiring stories. Taking their lead from Wim Wenders’ Buena Vista Social Club, Benda Bilili! is as much a tale of social exclusion and long overdue recognition as of fierce musical talent. That the film runs out of steam when dreams are realised is unsurprising.