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Staff Benda Bilili at Cafe de la Danse December 2009

Staff-benda-bilili-resized-main Text by Brendan Seibel

Congolese Afro-funk warriors conjured a sea of ecstatically contorting Parisians at Café de la Danse. Those tragic souls who secured places amongst the club's tiered seating cursed their own comfort, barred from the rolling swarm flooding the floor. Staff Benda Bilili, the Kinshasa sensation, are first and foremost a dance band.

Ending their debut European tour the eight musicians showed no sign of fatigue. Kicking off their set with a hard funk number they churned through over an hour's worth of soulful rumba, periodically pausing to greet the crowd and collect applause. A flawlessly executed set carefully navigated from upt-empo rockers to slow grinding ballads, providing a seamless flow allowing everyone to catch their breath. Staff Benda Bilili won the stamina competition.
Playing the streets of the Congolese capital has produced seasoned performers, never faltering and never freezing in the spotlight. Glances and quick gestures between members betrayed the grizzled professionalism that carries the band, but the show was not marked by packaged gimmickry or slick pop showmanship. Enthusiasm shone through in every hip shaking bass line, elated cry of the invented satonge, and every harmonized chorus. These men are not trapped in poverty or disability, but soaring free and carrying the masses with them.

Amidst a set which never disappointed highlights managed to percolate in quiet ways. Wheelchairs rocked across the stage during breakdowns, the percussionist threatened to leap over his drums, the satonge player rushed to lend his vocals to a chorus. When Malian guitarist Amandou Bagayoko joined them, cutting through the melodies with his raw R&B guitar licks, the audience's adulation nearly drowned out the music. Screams and pounding demanding an encore nearly brought the ceiling down; after a couple more numbers it grew more insistent as the band cleared the stage. Between the smiles and waves shared it was obvious no one wanted the show to end.

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