Release Date: Sep 4, 2012
Record label: Crammed Discs
There is a whole backstory to Staff Benda Bilili, the guitar-driven band from the streets of Kinshasa. It’s dramatic, it’s touching, it’s heartwarming, all of that, and it was relentlessly flogged in the promotion of the group’s first album, Très Très Fort, in 2009. That is okay with a debut record. But even a kick-ass backstory doesn’t mean much when it comes to a second album.
Kinshasa's troupe of disabled musicians have indeed "moved the world" with their trajectory from street scufflers to international stars, a feat celebrated here on Apandjokwetu. Recorded in a studio rather than in the zoo gardens, this second outing presents a richer, more percussive sound, albeit one still shot through with the zinging pyrotechnics of tin-can guitar. Its lilting, layered vocals and loping grooves are anchored in the conventions of Congo's 1980s soukous, though there's an expedition into swamp blues on Djambula.
Staff Benda Bilili rightly made a splash with their first album and the tale behind it. The question was, though, how much depth did they have to sustain a career? On the basis of this sophomore release, the answer is plenty. There's a new drummer and lead guitarist, and the return of their percussionist, as well as a greater sharing of the vocal duties.
As pure a life-affirming rush as the best pop music in any language. Paul Clarke 2012 That Staff Benda Bilili are releasing their second album during the Paralympics is certainly apt, as the tale of how these Congolese paraplegic musicians have found fame far beyond their homeland is as inspiring as that of any Paralympian. But then, despite the poverty of their background, Staff Benda Bilili have a knack for being in the right place at the right time.