staff benda bilili: tres tres fort maider gomez inchauspe   A band is not just a bunch of people who get together to play their instruments. Or at least it shouldn’t be. We know there are loads of bands around like that, but they are missing out on what is the most enriching element of belonging to a group. Real bands go beyond music. They are friends, colleagues, accomplices and travel companions that go from love to hate and back again. If there was ever an example of this, it’s the band Benda Bilili from the Congo.
We got to know this band thanks to the film Benda Bilili! at the Donostia-San Sebastian Human Rights Film Festival (premiered at Cannes, it won the main prize in Donostia) and we later got to see and hear them at the Jazzaldia Festival. We’re pretty sure one led to the other and, in that sense, someone showed reflexes and synergy that are really quite unusual in public administration. Being the exception it is, congratulations are definitely in order. Benda Bilili are a musical group from Kinshasa, the capital of Congo. Their music is a special mixture of rhythm ´n ´ blues, reggae and Cuban rumba. The band was formed by Ricky Lickabu and Coco Ngambali when they saw that bands from Kinshasa weren’t really being given a chance. Oh, of course, we still haven’t mentioned that all the members of Benda Bilili are in some way physically disabled. Most of them have serious mobility problems due to poliomyelitis. Their music came about when they began to use tricycles and other customized methods of transportation to get around to play in the streets of the city they lived in. In a country where the marginalized are majority, their street concerts soon began to attract large crowds.
With a view to the then upcoming elections, the band Benda Bilili wrote and recorded the song ¨Allons Voter¨ (Let’s Vote) in 2006. The song was soon being played on radio and TV and became incredibly successful. The song became more known than many of the candidates up for election throughout the whole country. The story is that the song was released through the United Nations office in Congo. The musicians weren’t given a contract and each member was paid 50 dollars in exchange for the song. The band took legal action. Even though we are by now more than used to the logic of reality being totally screwed up, we were still amazed at this story. Belgian producer Vincent Kenis heard of them and recorded them several times for the Congotronics movement that he was behind. They recorded their debut LP ¨Tres Tres Fort¨ (Very, very strong) with him in 2009. Thanks to the success of the record and film, Benda Bilili’s tricycles not only rumble round the streets of Kinhsasa, they also pound tres tres fort many, many streets in the towns and cities of Europe.