Sunday, 15 November 2009

Staff Benda Bilili - Barbican, London 10/11/09

Support on this show came from Muntu Valdo, a singer songwriter from Cameroon. A very able guitar player to say the least, who, as well some very competent warbling, also plays the harmonica. What more could you want? Perhaps add some fancy effect pedals enabling some impressive looping in order to confuse the less technically minded in the audience who probably thought he was miming, add some audience participation and hey presto! After 20 minutes, boredom sets in and I wonder why artists like this can get away with selling CD's at gigs for 15 pounds. This is straight from the label or artist direct to the public without the need for the distributors cut. Something not quite right there. Of course the artist needs some bread, but there is no reason why a CD selling at a gig should cost anymore than a tenner. Simple. Curiously the Staff Benda Bilili CD was being sold for 12 pound and there are eight people needing bread and lots of it too, because by the look of the energy they use up on stage, these guys need their carbs by the lorry load.

There were high expectations for this band tonight, their "Très Très Fort" album has been higly acclaimed worldwide and this, to my knowledge would be their first concert outside of their homeland.

OK, so let's get the important bit out of they way first. Staff Benda Bilili are a group of disabled Congolese street musicians move around in customized tricycles. They also who live in the grounds of a zoo. I say that this is the important bit only because this is the main marketing angle on the group. Take that away and you are left with the music. A very energetic mix of Congolese rhythms and Cuban rumba, with a combination of six vocalists of varying degrees of quality and my favourite bit, a customised hand made one string guitar which on the CD quite sounds manic and naturally is difficult to play in tune, but live it sounded even wilder and the sound gets very, very distorted and the frequency seemed to cause problems for some of the assembled audience. Great! This was very danceable stuff but looking at the stiff Barbican crowd seated as if, quite frankly, that it were a freak show (some looked positively horrified when one of the wheel-chaired musicians leapt from his wheelchair. I half expected someone to go to his aid). I would go as far as to say some of this audience have never experienced anything remotely resembling fun throughout their entire lives. There was a break-off rebel splinter group of dancers of fifteen people or so who were getting some evil stares from the stiff stuck-up posse. For the record, I didn't dance, but I shook my legs a bit.

So to round off, not exactly mind blowing but a very enjoyable evening which reminds me how lucky I am to be living in London (or at least in a few days, quite close to London) where there is such a wide variety of things to do musically and otherwise that is virtually on your door step.

Here is a live clip of the band from a recent TV appearance.

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