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.
Staff Benda Bilili ripped through Europe for the first time in late 2009, spreading the word about debut album "Tres Tres Fort" with one of the most talked-about tours of 2009. The continent’s media responded in a chorus of praise, with top TV shows (including BBC Newsnight), broadsheet newspapers and world-renowned radios lavishing the band and their album with attention and end-of-year plaudits.
"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.
Staff has gained worldwide recognition including the 2009 WOMEX artist of the year award and voted as "Best Group" in the Songlines Music Awards 2010. Since 2009 Staff have been touring extensively in Europe, Japan and Australia, playing many of the largest festivals incl. Glastonbury, WOMAD, Roskilde among numerous others.
Staff Benda Bilili consider themselves as the real journalists of Kinshasa, as their songs document and comment events of everyday life. One of their key messages is: the only real handicaps are not in the body but in the mind.
Benda Bilili means "look beyond appearances" – literally: "put forward what is hidden."