Sunday, 31 July 2011


Staff Benda Bilili
Cajarc is a small town in the south of the Lot, which every year, at the end of July, has a three day festival to celebrate Africa called Africajarc. It has been running for the last thirteen years. In the streets, alongside Tuaregs in their blue robes selling silver jewellery; sub-saharan Africans selling wooden carvings, tie-dyed clothes and batiks; are people from the Lot selling cheese, saucisson sec and the rest of their local produce. Street musicians and story-tellers entertain the crowds; you can learn to dance; play the drums; watch African films and lots more. It’s a really lively place for a day out. This is the official 2011 site.

We decided to go to yesterday's evening concert and I was impressed by the group Staff Benda Bilili. Their name means “look beyond appearances”. You should watch the video to understand why they called themselves that.  Being disabled by polio in Africa is considered at best unlucky, or at worst a curse, and other musicians in Kinshasa wouldn’t work with them, so they formed their own band and are now performing around the world. They have incredible energy and their dancing wheelchairs are quite something. The crowd was bopping, clapping and bouncing, even the older generation! The set they played did need a bit of variety of tempo, and I think Roger Landu, with his one-string, homemade and very shrill, "guitar" should also learn to play the trumpet, or possibly the flute. That would add a different sound. Nevertheless they were great!

Their style of guitar playing is Congolese, which has become universal in large parts of Africa. Have a look at these Baka youngsters in the Cameroon rainforest.

But the youngsters’ style of playing has deeper roots in the yodelling, singing and playing of the "thumb piano" or kalimba of earlier generations of forest dwellers, which you can hear on this video.

I really think it’s wonderful that people singing in the rainforests of Central Africa have influenced the music of most of a continent!


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