Staff Benda Belili

With Dylan Tighe (support act)
Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool
6th December 2014

Reviewed by Joe Coventry

Well done to the organisers of the DaDa International Festival for getting this irrepressible Congolese combo to come to Liverpool's most prestigious music venue. Staff Benda Belili are on a European tour with tonight the only gig in the UK, as their tour manager Stefan explained when I caught up with him.

The concert was in two halves, with support act Dylan Tighe on first. Hailing from Ireland, but living in Boston, USA, the affable singer, armed with his guitar, sang titles from his 2014 debut album Record, charting his brush with, and overcoming of, the debilitating effects of mental illness. In clever lyrics about family, societal and institutionalised recognition and treatment of the condition, and it's effect on the individual, his songs added a fresh take on the problems fellow sufferers have to overcome.

After the interval the headliners came onto the stage to rapturous applause. Having starred all over the world, and at festivals like Glastonbury and Womad, it was a bit surreal to see them on stage here tonight. They lined up in two rows: wheechairs and crutch bearing guitarists and/or singers at the front; drums, generic percussion and one stringed electric lute, (looking like a cross between a tea pot and a watering can), at the rear.

This last instrument is the plaything of Roger Landu, street foundling and musician extraordinaire, taken in by the band on the poverty stricken streets of Kinshasa, were the disabled and disadvantaged have to look out for themselves. (All of this is brilliantly captured in a French film which came out in 2010.) Tonight though, with no introductions, they blasted out their anthems of Congolese slum rumba, Cuban swing and psychedelic exotica with a no holds barred exuberance and energy in a wall of noise; the exponential embodiment of the effort put in.

The venue, recently refurbished and still smelling of newness, was a little bit unfortunate in that it was not packed out to see what was the showcase finale to three weeks of performances across the city, for and by the disabled and deaf flagship, celebrating it's 30th year.

That there was no wheelchair access to the bar, (no lifts), did not deflect from the enthusiasm of those attending, and this was further accommodated after the concert in an impromptu foyer bar and get together for a chat and photographs, with some group members.

Overall it was a very enjoyable night and a long one, as the audience danced in the isles and seats, to the infectious rhythms emanating from the stage, kept everyone wanting more. The standing ovation at the end was inevitable.

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