Today: April 15, 2024

Benda Bilili

A simple story brilliantly told about rags to riches as a documentary crew follow some aspiring Columbian musicians.

The general rule of thumb is that documentaries are designed to inform and, by their very nature, document a series of events. What Benda Bilili does, which is rarely seen, is inspire you to the very core. Once you have seen this film you will genuinely believe that no matter what stands in your way there is nothing you cannot achieve if you set your heart and mind to it.

Benda Bilili, which translates to ‘Beyond Appearances’ are a street band in the run down city of Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo. What makes them all the more unique is that they are made up, largely, by paraplegics and street kids. As we follow this merry band their music tells a story that is in utter juxtaposition to their surroundings. There are no down beat ballads or depressing blues renditions. Instead the music is uplifting and frantically kinetic, suddenly the name ‘Beyond Appearances’ takes on a whole new meaning.

Directors Renaud Barret and Florent de la Tullaye follow the band as they gather on the streets every night to play for the masses, hoping to earn just enough to take their music to the next level. This is the ultimate rags to riches story but told in such a way that you are never forced to feel sorry for these individuals but always route for them.

Papa Ricky, leader of the band, informs us that on the streets of Kinshasa “It’s survival of the fittest” and yet on first appearances none of these men should be surviving yet alone thriving. The film is not all upbeat though. In one instance Papa Ricky’s house is ravaged by fire and all his and his family’s worldly possessions are burnt to the ground. For others this would be a moment of utter devastation and yet it is testament to the ideology of the group that Papa Ricky takes it in his stride.

More than anything though this is a wonderful example of how people express themselves through what they love; like Roger, the 12 year old street kid recruited into the band, who plays an instrument that is essentially a string pulled tightly over an old milk can. But when Roger plays you are enthralled by the sounds he makes and the heart he injects into it. As the band rise to fame and find themselves in five star hotels their infectious energy and lust for life never alter.

Its brilliance lies in its simplicity of witnessing a group of underdogs achieve what they all dream and when you hear them play there is no doubt they have done it the right way.

To Buy Benda Bilili On DVD Go Here Or On Blu-Ray Go Here

Alex Moss Editor

Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email:

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