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Staff Benda Bilili

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Staff Benda Bilili is a group of Congolese street musicians who play a fusion of rumba, reggae, and vintage R&B. Formed by Ricky Likabu and Coco Ngambali, the band consists of four middle-aged paraplegics, all of whom were confined to wheelchairs after suffering polio as children, as well as several younger members. Roger Landu, who joined the group as a teenager, acts as a lead guitarist of sorts, playing instrumental solos on a one-string electric he built out of a tin can. The other younger members comprise the rhythm section. Initially, Staff Benda Bilili practiced in the Kinshasha Zoo and performed on street corners across the city. When French filmmakers Florent de la Tullaye and Renaud Barrett stumbled across the group while filming a documentary on Kinshasha street musicians, Staff Benda Bilili began to attract a wider audience. The filmmakers introduced the band to Vincent Kenis, a Belgian producer, who signed the group to his Crammed Discs label and helped them record an album. Recorded at the zoo and released in 2009, Très Très Fort earned accolades from across the world. Tullaye and Barrett's documentary, which focused exclusively on the band, premiered at the Cannes Film Festival one year later. ~ Andrew Leahey

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