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Staff Benda Bilili
April 26, 2008 3:30 AM   Subscribe

The other day I happened to come upon a music video that is just so grooving, so human and so real, that, well, it moved me, darling. Just check it out. After watching the clip, I learned that these guys are mostly disabled by polio (that's why several of them are in those rather unusual wheelchairs) and that they were living on the grounds of the Kinshasa zoo, which is where the clip was filmed. Then I learned that last year they were seeking to bring a lawsuit against the UN. Then I found some other clips. And now I am a major fan of Staff Benda Bilili.

And how 'bout that totally awesome ultra-high-pitched musical bow that young man is playing? Is that not the coolest instrument ever?

Here's a short interview I found, with UN press officer Kemal Saiki, concerning the allegations against the UN by Staff Benda Bilili.

Here's an article concerning African disabled musicians, including Staff Benda Bilili, called Music from the Motherland.

And this recent article from The Independent mentions Staff Benda Bilili in its last paragraph. Referring to "Na Lingi Yo" (the tune featured prominently in this FPP) the article says: "It was worth coming all this way just to hear that one song."

A blog entry that I came across, on the video, from last year.
posted by flapjax at midnite (47 comments total) 96 users marked this as a favorite

 
That is indeed a bit special. You've come up trumps again flapjax. The dispute with the UN looks like the kind of thing that could have been settled amicably with a reasonable goodwill payment before things got out of hand.
posted by Abiezer at 3:45 AM on April 26, 2008


I love it. I wonder what that tiny white instrument is, that he gets such a great sound out of? I should look that up.
posted by Countess Elena at 3:51 AM on April 26, 2008


Is that not the coolest instrument ever?

Not only is it the coolest instrument ever, but he's such a virtuoso. Is he hitting the notes simply by introducing tension into the hose?

Fantastic post.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 4:00 AM on April 26, 2008


Here's the trailer to the documentary Jupiter's Dance. Just astounding. Best FPP of the year so far!
posted by unSane at 4:03 AM on April 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Seriously, that wee lad is amazing. He seems to be getting the pitch just by bending the curved piece of metal, yet he's managing some intricate stuff there. From the start of the video it looks like a painted syrup tin with another piece of metal coming off it and a string tied between. Amazing.
posted by fire&wings at 4:13 AM on April 26, 2008


unSane, thanks for that link. Gotta see that documentary: fantastic stuff there.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:22 AM on April 26, 2008


so grooving, so human and so real

so true - thanks much for this

posted by jammy at 4:37 AM on April 26, 2008


Fantastique.
posted by Flashman at 4:37 AM on April 26, 2008


Wonderful stuff.
posted by Lord_Pall at 4:48 AM on April 26, 2008


MeFi gold. Thanks, flapjax.
posted by mediareport at 4:55 AM on April 26, 2008


Fine post flapjax.

But the eight members of the Staff Benda Bilili band were paid $50 each. The UN has denied any responsibility for paying royalties.

Whatever for? It's not like the UN was "stealing" or anything. The UN just downloaded the tracks from the copy that the World Bank has. P2P between friends. Those kids still have their song. It was like "fair use" or something. Those kids should be grateful for the publicity. The greedy bastards. It's artists like this that are killing innovation.

Isn't that how it goes?
posted by three blind mice at 5:02 AM on April 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Wow, that was excellent! Thanks!
posted by SpecialK at 5:03 AM on April 26, 2008


Thanks, flapjax! that was an amazing video.

I wonder why there's no page for Staff Benda Bilili in the English (US) Wikipedia?
posted by pjern at 5:08 AM on April 26, 2008


Here's the Belle Kinoise Productions MySpace page. They are responsible for the "Jupiter's Dance" film that unSane linked to above. They tell me (via MySpace mail) that there's a Staff Benda Bilili film set for release in January 2009. Meanwhile, there's one Staff Benda Bilili tune on the music player at their page ("Avramandole") , as well as three tunes from the Jupiter's Dance guy.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:10 AM on April 26, 2008


And, a slightly belated link to the Staff Benda Bilili MySpace Music page.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:14 AM on April 26, 2008


Yeah, that was cool. If anyone finds out anything more about that white one string thing, please post it here. I so want one.
posted by 23skidoo at 5:29 AM on April 26, 2008


Isn't that how it goes?

I think the parallels are here akin to a story that long predates peer to peer filesharing:

Independent record producer meets poor, downtrodden but hugely talented artists.
Producer pays said talented artists a flat fee of $50 to make a record.
Record hits number one.
Artists get their $50, producer gets his $5 million.

But obviously Staff Benda Bilili have realized that they'll only ever get shafted under such arrangements and have decided to make their material freely available on YouTube and MySpace until they build a market.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:53 AM on April 26, 2008


Independent record producer meets poor, downtrodden but hugely talented artists.
Producer pays said talented artists a flat fee of $50 to make a record.


It was 400 bucks ($50 for each member), but if that's the case what's their beef?

If not for the producer, they'd still be talented, but $400 poorer and still unknown.

And 50 bucks per head the producer paid is more than anyone will pay them to consume their music over YouTube or Myspace. The "market" you speak of does not exist.

On the other hand, if Youtube and MySpace had to pay royalties like ANY OTHER COMMERCIAL RADIO STATION, the artists might actually have a chance to earn a living from their work.

But I digress. It's great stuff and I wish that these kids could get some coin from the people who enjoy their work. Thanks to Western Internet Colonialists who want their content for free, that ain't likely to gonna happen.
posted by three blind mice at 6:08 AM on April 26, 2008


While looking for more songs, I found a site that lists many African music videos, sorted by artist or country. There are some dead links, but most seem to work.
posted by Lynx at 6:22 AM on April 26, 2008 [3 favorites]


Great music, great post. Thanks, flapjax!

From the interview:

The UN and the independent electoral commission had a budget of $500 million for the elections. Couldn't you have slipped them a little something for helping to boost democracy in the Congo?
We made no contract or commitment to them and have absolutely no responsibility in that matter.


Classy.
posted by languagehat at 6:40 AM on April 26, 2008


Um...I'm all about free music, but I would pay them for tracks. Without a second thought. Is there an album somewhere I can buy?
posted by Hildegarde at 6:57 AM on April 26, 2008


supercool
posted by Falconetti at 7:24 AM on April 26, 2008


If not for the producer, they'd still be talented, but $400 poorer and still unknown.

Maybe Muddy Waters can teach them how to paint ceilings for their record company, to tide them over when they've spent their $50 apiece.

On the other hand, if Youtube and MySpace had to pay royalties like ANY OTHER COMMERCIAL RADIO STATION, the artists might actually have a chance to earn a living from their work.

Ask Muddy how much he saw in royalties -- despite having half his of back catalogue selling millions in Led Zeppelin cover versions.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 7:59 AM on April 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Posts like these are what makes Metafilter so great. Too bad they're so few and far between.
posted by allkindsoftime at 8:11 AM on April 26, 2008


:-*
posted by owhydididoit at 8:28 AM on April 26, 2008


Gorgeous & emotional.

Well done. Great links, important stuff.

Thanks, f@m.
posted by batmonkey at 8:38 AM on April 26, 2008


Countess Elena, PeterMcDermott: looks like the kid is playing a variant on a tension banjo. He's got the can resonator under his right arm, and pulling on the hose tensions the string. What I'm not clear on is where the string joins the can.

However it's made, he's really good on it. Best I've ever got out of a tension banjo is a nasty squarking noise.
posted by scruss at 10:41 AM on April 26, 2008


Listened to this quickly this morning - HAD to come back to it, they are that infectious.

Thanks, Flapjax!
posted by readery at 10:42 AM on April 26, 2008


Is there an album somewhere I can buy?

You can buy a documentary here that appears to be about a guy named Jupiter and his band Okwess International. Here is the Naxos page. They are somehow affiliated with Staff Benda Bilili through belle kinoise, who is promoting the documentary. Their website has a lot of videos that are fricking awesome.

Anyway, when you buy the dvd, you get an album with it. Woot!

Thanks, flapjax, for the delicious can o' worms!
posted by nosila at 11:26 AM on April 26, 2008


Wow...check out this one. Amazing!
posted by nosila at 11:28 AM on April 26, 2008


Oops...sorry. Missed that last one in the original FTP. I'm waaay over-zealous about this music.
posted by nosila at 11:43 AM on April 26, 2008


Sounds like King Sunny Ade (the vocals) meets Konono N°1 - love it (thx flapjx). A few more (black) African videos here. Oh, and, PeterMcD: ultimately, the Lomax-Mbube saga did end in Solomon Lima's favour...
posted by progosk at 12:50 PM on April 26, 2008


"We will be the most famous disabled band of Africa". I'm thinking maybe they already are.

As for having their music cribbed without any subsequent royalty payment, well, it wouldn't be the first time.
posted by Mike D at 2:12 PM on April 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


"You can buy a documentary here that appears to be about a guy named Jupiter and his band Okwess International. Here is the Naxos page. They are somehow affiliated with Staff Benda Bilili through belle kinoise, who is promoting the documentary. Their website has a lot of videos that are fricking awesome. Anyway, when you buy the dvd, you get an album with it. Woot!"


And thanks a bunch for that signpost, Nosila. Hopped over to Amazon and ordered it solely on the strength of its "Chapter" descriptions and the links punctuating the original post and this discussion. Heavens to Murgatroyd, I do love the internet!
posted by Mike D at 2:28 PM on April 26, 2008


I often show up around here to complain how people's music doesn't shape up :-D but I love this stuff - the tension banjo player is simply delicious.

Interestingly enough, their tuning in general is very good; generally in Africa they're much more informal about matters of tuning than in the West (you have to get used to it).

Great post, favorited!
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 2:40 PM on April 26, 2008


Progosk: "Oh, and, PeterMcD: ultimately, the Lomax-Mbube saga did end in Solomon Lima's favour..."

According to that Wiki item, the agreement rolls some money into a trust. Not quite clear where it goes from there. But given that Solomon Linda died a pauper despite a bazillion dollars' being earned by "Weemoway" and its subsequent incarnation as "The Lion Sleeps Tonight", I don't think there's any way you can characterize the outcome as having been in Solomon Linda's favour... except for the fact that his grave finally has a headstone.
posted by Mike D at 2:42 PM on April 26, 2008


Me too, Mike D. Me too. (And I also love it when people say "Heavens to Murgatroyd.")
posted by nosila at 3:42 PM on April 26, 2008


"...the agreement rolls some money into a trust."

Too late, surely - but the settlement (CNN apparently pegged it at 25% on past and future royalties on sales) and its provisions are a nice turn of events nonetheless.
posted by progosk at 5:01 PM on April 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


This is GREAT! Thanks!
posted by mrducts at 5:20 PM on April 26, 2008


Weird, I was just looking up some facts about Kinshasa yesterday. I liked this little bit in Wikipedia:

Kinshasa is officially nicknamed “Kin la Belle” (Kinshasa The Beautiful), but since the collapse of public services and neglect some of its residents have ironically changed the nickname into “Kin la Poubelle” (Kinshasa the Garbage).

Sexa Machina!
posted by fungible at 5:23 PM on April 26, 2008


how does that go again?

oh yeah, "ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for you country."

70% turnout at an election?? in africa??! be proud, not litigious.
posted by nmr8 at 5:55 PM on April 26, 2008


be proud, not litigious.

You know, one can be simultaneously proud of one's accomplishments AND expect to be fairly compensated for your efforts. Did you miss the part about how these musicians made a grand total of $50 dollars each? That's called exploitation. They clearly deserve better compensation from the people who recorded and distributed the song.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:05 PM on April 26, 2008


Wow!
posted by Wolof at 7:34 PM on April 26, 2008


[speechless]
posted by ZachsMind at 8:30 PM on April 26, 2008


BBC has the incriminated song (realplayer). Not sure whether it's the full version, but to call it "one of their sweetest jams" (vice) is perhaps overstating it slightly.
posted by progosk at 3:40 AM on April 27, 2008


Also: the one-stringed instrument you see 14-year-old Roger Landu playing is his invention; he calls it a satongue.
posted by progosk at 3:50 AM on April 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


progosk, yeah man, nice detective work! Thanks a lot for those links!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:50 AM on April 27, 2008


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