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Bouger le Monde

George Luke

Staff Benda Bilili
Crammed Discs

It's been hard to avoid Staff Benda Bilili this summer. They closed the Cultural Olympiad's Africa Stage series of concerts in July, then played a blinder at the Proms in early September. Anyone would think they had a new album to plug…
Bouger le Monde (Shake the World) was recorded in Congo's historic Renapec studio - built by the Belgian Catholic Church in the 1950s, and the place where such big names in Congolese music as Franco, Tabu Ley Rochereau and Papa Wemba recorded classic albums in years past. That's just one sign of how well the formerly homeless band have done for themselves (their previous album was recorded in the Kinshasa zoo where some of them used to sleep rough). Now they all own houses and are looking for ways to give back. They have created an NGO with the aim of helping disabled people and homeless children get employment and education, and are founding a school which will provide tuition in mechanics, carpentry, music and computer science.

Bouger le Monde showcases a band that has grown tighter since those viral Youtube videos brought them to the world's attention three years ago; a band that has worked consistently on upping its game, growing in confidence as it does so. Even their catchphrase 'tres tres fort' (the title of their debut album) has been upgraded to 'trop trop fort'. A couple of new members have joined the band since we last saw them; lead guitarist Amalphi Ketikila Masamba is a new recruit while Randy Makana Kalambayi (a young percussionist who'd played with the band when he was a boy but then disappeared for a few years) has rejoined. A total of seven band members take turns singing lead vocals on the album's 11 tracks.

The music on the album is every bit as joyous as it was first time round. Roger's home-made single string guitar sounds as otherworldly as ever, and is now nicely supplemented by Amalphi's guitar soloing - especially on the song 'Kuluna/Gangs'. Other songs on the album address issues such as self-sufficiency ('Sopeka') and the downside of organised religion ('Djambula').
Writing this review just days after the Paralympics ended, it's hard not to draw parallels between the 'Superhumans' whose sporting prowess has thrilled us this summer and a band that has dubbed itself 'Africa's number one disabled band'. Although they do sing about how disability has affected their lives, Staff Benda Bilili have never gone looking for a sympathy vote. Bouger le Monde is a strong album, and should confirm their position as Africa's Number One band - disabled or otherwise.

George Luke