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Cannes 2010: A musical sensation shakes a nation

May 13, 2010 |  7:29 am

Benda For a documentary to get to Cannes, it has to tell an exceptional story, but "Benda Bilili!" spins a tale for which "improbable" is a mild word.

The opening-night film of the Directors' Fortnight, "Benda Bilili!" received a strong standing ovation when it debuted Thursday, not the least because four members of the Kinshasa, Congo, band whose journey it details were in attendance.

The band calls itself "Staff Benda Bilili," which means "beyond appearances" in the local Lingala language, and it is clear why. The group's key personnel are paraplegics who get around Kinshasa on modified tricycles. When the film was begun, everyone in it was either homeless or living in a shelter.

As detailed and also assisted by French filmmakers Renaud Barret and Florent de la Tullaye, the band made a five-year journey from destitution to a recording contract for its supremely melodic music, as well as a triumphant European tour. As one of the band's lyrics puts it, "Luck shows up unannounced."

-- Kenneth Turan, reporting from Cannes, France

Photo: An album cover from the band Staff Benda Bilili. Credit: Crammed Discs Records

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