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You shoulda been there: Staff Benda Bilili tears it up at the El Rey

If you heard the New Music Tuesday segment of Take Two this week, you heard me raving to host A Martinez about the album Bouger le Monde by Staff Benda Bilili. That’s the Congolese sensation that grew out of the streets of Kinshasa, centered around several talented polio victims, their remarkable tale told in last year’s Cannes-honored documentary, Benda Bilili!. And you heard how excited I was that they were finally making their Los Angeles debut Wednesday with a concert at the El Rey Theatre. (If you didn’t hear the segment, you can listen here.)

But, it seems, you didn’t take my suggestion and go to the show yourself. Sad to report that the place was nearly empty. 

The several dozen people who did go, though, were rewarded with one of the most dynamic concerts of the year: Exuberant group and solo vocals by four guys in wheelchairs and one on crutches (all often dancing, yes) led by founder Ricky Likadu  were backed by powerful bass and drums for groove-shaking blends of central African rhythms — ancient patterns woven through the modern rhumbas popular there for generations now — and burbling rock. 

And then there was the secret weapon, young Roger Landu and his homemade contraption of one string, a bent stick and a tin can, which he plays with an electrifying virtuosity approaching Carlos Santana territory.

Anyway, enough scolding from me. Watch the cell phone video of one song, above, and scold yourself. And hope that the low turnout doesn’t discourage Staff Benda Bilili enough that they won’t return to L.A.