Très Très Fort
Believe the hype, folks: Très Très Fort, the new album by Staff Benda Bilili, is truly fantastic. I’ll be genuinely surprised if I hear much else this year that displays half the musical ingenuity, wit and energy that these guys can muster when they’re in full flight. And if I do, then the artists responsible for it will have almost certainly come from the Democratic Republic of the Congo too.One thing about the album that did surprise me slightly is that it doesn't sound quite as 'out there' as I was expecting. My favourite tune; 'Avramandole' is as blisteringly funky as the youtube previews suggested, and the cod-country/reggae of 'Sala Mosala' is infectiously incongruous, but most of the tunes aren't a million miles away from the straight up Soukous of my favourite Congolese artist: Pablo Lubadika Porthos - not that this is a bad thing at all I might add!
In the west, contemporary pop-culture seems to be stuck in a perpetual spin-cycle, flip-flopping between fads and corporate-driven revivals. It’s like a dog constantly chasing its own tail – not for a flea, but for the fiver that someone stuck there as a joke. Lazyitis is the new Rock n Roll.
But Staff Benda Bilili - like fellow Congolese musicians Kasai Allstars and L'orchestre Folklorique T.P. Konono N°1 de Mingiedi (that’s Konono N°1 to you) – have opened up a Pandora’s box of musical possibilities. Their imagination and determination puts most UK bands to shame. What they lack in resources they make up for with sheer inventiveness, literally conjuring their songs from out of nothing, using home-made instruments, discarded junk and their own bodies and voices.
Here's a couple more of those videos to whet your appetite, including one of 'Poliomyelite' filmed during the recording of the album (BTW, can anyone tell me where the main chord progression in that tune comes from? Its very familiar but I just can't pin it down and it's driving me mental...)