Andy Coleman hears an inspirational musical tale from the poverty-stricken streets of Kinshasa.
They are the most unlikely pop stars but on Saturday a group of former homeless buskers from Africa take to Birmingham’s Town Hall stage for what promises to be a joyous night of buoyant beats and rumba-rooted rhythms.
The band, Staff Benda Bilili, is well named – Look Beyond Appearances is the translation.
Amazingly, the core members are paraplegics and are not in their first flush of youth.
Staff Benda Bilili were discovered in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, by film-makers Renaud Barret and Florent de La Tullaye.
They were captivated by the raggle-taggle bunch who rehearsed in the grounds of Kinshasa zoo then busked and begged on the streets.
The members handicapped by polio traversed the streets in customised trikes, sometimes pushed by the able-bodied like teenager Roger Landu who plays a home-made instrument – a guitar string attached to a tin which he calls a satonge.
Not only was this material for a documentary movie, thought Renaud and Florent, but there was scope for an album to be recorded.
The resulting disc, Tres Tres Fort, was released to great acclaim and the film, Benda Bilili!, was shown at Cannes and is being released on DVD next week.
But that was only the beginning. The film chronicles the band touring Europe after the album’s release and receiving plaudits like the 2009 Artist Award at the World Music Expo.
Band co-founder Ricky Lickabu says the album and film have completely changed his life.
‘‘I’m making a living from the music and that is a big change for me,’’ says the 61-year-old. ‘‘My children are going to private schools, we can take care of our health and I’m on the point of finishing building my house on a small piece of land in Kinshasa.
Roger Landau, now aged 19, adds that his life is also very different now.
‘‘Everything has changed! I can now take care of my mother and sisters and brothers. I married and have a child now.
‘‘I have my house and I provided a house for my mother. I opened an audio-video studio in Kinshasa and there are many other things that are normal for me today but were not an accessible dream two years ago.’’
At the beginning of the film we see the group singing about their homelessness and the fact that they have to ‘‘sleep on cardboard’’.