DRC Paraplegics Take On Social Stigma through Music

A group of disabled singers and musicians from the Democratic Republic of Congo have banded together to challenge discrimination and stigma through music. Their refusal to accept the disdain of DRC society and impoverished, unfulfilled lives on the fringes is a testament to the human spirit.

 Ok, so that might sound cliché, but I mean it. Most of us pass through lives that would widely be considered mundane or “normal” – fretting over “normal” problems like paying the bills, little Billy’s school grades and mowing the lawn. These artists have taken a horrendous situation and turned it into a positive. How many of us “normal” folk can say that?

 The band Staff Benda Bilili, which means “show what’s hidden,” is made up of musicians and singers struck down by polio who live and play in the grounds around Kinshasa’s dilapidated zoo. The guitarists play on home-made instruments; the drummer beats on a plastic chair with flip-flops. They sing about the importance of polio vaccinations, self-reliance, tolerance and homelessness in Kinshasa. You can check out their MySpace page and listen to some of their beautiful music here.

 Staff Bena Bilili’s international profile has risen this year with a moderately successful album “Tres, Tres Forte” and a European Tour this fall, but band members remain depressingly poor. Hopefully their determination and inspiring music will help them improve their economic situations, but, more importantly, help end stigma surrounding the disabled in the DRC, Africa, and around the world.