Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Staff Benda Bilili

  • Très Très Fort [Crammed Discs, 2009] A-
  • Bouger Le Monde [Crammed Discs, 2012] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Très Très Fort [Crammed Discs, 2009]
The backstory to the cover image of middle-aged African street musicians posed on their customized tricycles is so juicy that alert music lovers will put their guard up: handicapé, grown-up shegues (street kids, courtesy Che Guevara) hanging around the Kinshasa zoo form long-running band, meet Damon Albarn, hook up with Congotronics promoter. And indeed, their street voices and hand percussion do sometimes seem overly folkloric, even when they pursue soukous and reggae. But pulling everything up a notch is a teenager named Roger Landu wailing away on salongé, a one-stringed electric lute he invented. Not only does it make a sound you've never heard before and immediately want to hear again, but he's learned how to riff and solo on it. With Landu's embellishments, some pretty good songs--mostly in Lingala, about stuff like polio, cardboard boxes, Staff Benda Bilili, and of course l'amour--become pretty good songs you want to get to the bottom of. A-

Bouger Le Monde [Crammed Discs, 2012]
Insofar as these beggars and thieves qualify as "roots revivalists," those roots are pop not folk, urban not rural: the liveliest revision of Kinshasa's rumba groove since the speed soukous of Mobutu's mad decline. Horns would be extravagances to professional musicians glad enough not to be sleeping rough anymore, and the guitar parts are rudimentary, with sebene duty done by the vaults and darts of a whining homemade lute that jolts rather than lilts much less flows. But though capable lead vocalist Ricky Likabu and startling high tenor Theo Nzonza don't soar on record the way they do live, both lift audibly out of the wheeled conveyances from which a gang of polio survivors articulated their humanity and launched their inspired hustle. A-

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