Star rating – 9/10
If you want an uplifting and heart warming documentary with some great music at its core, then you should try to catch Benda Bilili on DVD. It follows a group of Congolese street buskers, many of whom are disabled, and all of whom are virtually penniless and living on the streets on cardboard if they are lucky.
A French film crew discovered them, and over a period of 5 years, with many ups and downs, helped them to make a trip to Europe to delight crowds with their infectious rhythms and positive take on their extremely challenging environment.
It’s not just a sympathy trip though – they hardly even refer to their disabilities at all during the film. They are genuinely talented musicians, especially their leader and father figure ‘Papa’ Ricky Likabu, who instils a serious work ethic into his band despite the hardships they face.
Most touching of all is Roger, who comes to the city from his home village many miles away when he is still a boy to try to make money to help his mother and siblings back home. All he has is a homemade instrument consisting of an empty tin can, a piece of wood, and some wire. Over the course of the filming he develops his musical talent using this same instrument alone, into a truly wonderful thing. The final scenes of him enjoying every second of his European fame, and milking it on stage for every ounce he can, are absolutely delightful.
This is one of those films that you feel much better for having seen, that makes you feel very grateful for all that you have got, and in truth a bit guilty for not appreciating it a bit more.