Documentary at Cannes showcases band of Congolese polio survivors
Award-winning Hungarian filmmaker Ádám Csillag filmed Staff Benda Bilili at the kickoff concert of their European tour.
A Congolese band whose lead singers are polio survivors is making its way onto the world music scene after a documentary on the group's origins received critical acclaim at the Cannes Film Festival in May.
Staff Benda Bilili, which means “look beyond appearances” in Lingala, is a band of eight former street musicians from Kinshasa. Five of them are polio survivors. Their song “Polio” speaks of the disease that changed their lives and urges parents to immunize their children.
The band's debut album, Très Très Fort, won the 2009 Womex Award for international music. French filmmakers Florent de la Tullaye and Renaud Barrett decided to create a documentary on the band after falling in love with its music when they were in Kinshasa in 2004, working on a movie about the city's music scene. The film Benda Bilili! premiered 13 May during the festival.
Band members have also joined other musicians across Africa in lending their voices to the final push to rid the continent of polio. Through the Kick Polio Out of Africa campaign, a soccer ball signed by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and a growing number of public figures has been making its way through the continent to raise awareness for polio eradication before traveling to the RI Convention in Montréal, Québec, Canada. Follow the ball's progress on our interactive map . Show your support by signing a virtual ball online.
“Of course we’re happy to be part of the campaign. After all, we’re handicapped by polio, and we are the first group to sing about polio, so naturally we’re ready to help,” said bandleader Ricky Likabu. “Our song ‘Polio’ is simply to implore parents to take their children to health clinics to be vaccinated, as the WHO [World Health Organization] recommends. Parents are responsible for their children, and they need to know how to avoid diseases.”
Staff Benda Bilili's European tour began in April. The band will stop in Greece, Sweden, Poland, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France in June, before performing 5 July at the Montreal Jazz Festival.
Read more about the band in the June issue of The Rotarian .
Download audio, see video, and order music from the band's website at Crammed Discs.
See a YouTube video of the band's hit song "Polio."