Benda Bilili! Review

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A group of seven Congolese musicians, Benda Bilili ('beyond appearances'), led by polio sufferer Papa Ricky, set out to achieve their goal of becoming the best band in Kinshasa. Little do they know but much greater acclaim awaits them.


With the short of story probably considered too fantastical for a pitch meeting — polio-wracked, homeless, Congolese musicians record an album, become a global success — the members of Staff Benda Bilili have made an extraordinary journey. Renaud Barret and Florent de La Tullaye followed the band for five years as they struggled on the streets of the decrepit city of Kinshasa. The level of poverty astounds — the average life expectancy for men is 45 — but Staff Benda Bilili, lead by enigmatic Ricky, muddle through, rehearsing in the zoo while remaining upbeat in the most testing circumstances. The music they make is celebratory and boundless; the antithesis to the world they inhabit. Compulsive viewing, utterly engaging and with a happy ending, it would never have been green-lit.

Wielding inspiration and uplift in equal measure, this musical odyssey is one of the cinematic journeys of the year. Don't miss it.