If you want a survivor story with bells on (sort of literally, as it’s about musicians!) check out this article on Congolese band Staff Benda Bilili, who I first learned about while reading the SN Brussels in-flight magazine while waiting to pick up my US visa. All of the band members have physical disabilities, many resulting from polio. They are able to transport themselves on self-built ‘wheelchairs’, and formed a band, many playing instruments that they have built themselves.
The name ‘Benda Bilili’ means ‘look beyond appearances’ in Lingala, and their songs often feature contemporary issues affecting people with disabilities, such as the importance of polio vaccinations.
Coco Ngambali, the group’s primary songwriter, told The Independent: “We see ourselves as journalists. We’re the real journalists because we’re not afraid of anyone. We communicate messages to mothers, to those who sleep on the streets on cardboard boxes, to the shégués (the disabled homeless).”
The article also mentions that the internet has been important in allowing the band to break through into the European market:
Staunchly self-reliant, the band members built up their musical careers with no help from others and have only just recently garnered attention from European world music fans. Prior to their recent success, they would have to busk on the street near the zoo – or even across the street from the United Nations office in Kinshasa – to make money for food.
The powerful web video service You Tube has driven awareness of the band, as hundreds of thousands of people have viewed their videos online.
Posted By Laura Gordon
Posted Jul 29th, 2009