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astonishment amongst the assembled Men on this celebratory disc; when asked to spec- ulate on making it this far they modestly reply they want to be sitting in a decent boozer playing session-like with a few drinks and their mates. I wouldn’t bet against it either. Fiddler Bobby Valentino puts it more bluntly, “This isn’t hey nonny, nonny, it’s folk music for the here and now.”


STAFF BENDA BILILI


Benda Bilili! Dirs. Renaud Barret & Florent De La Tullaye Trinity Films


In December 2004 the French documentary film-makers Renaud Barret and Florent De La Tullaye were looking to make a film about urban music in Kinshasa when they chanced upon Staff Benda Bilili. No ordinary group – this was a dishevelled band of disabled musi- cians on metal tricycles, conducted by Ricky, guitarist, singer and father of the band who were rehearsing in Kinshasa zoo. The film- makers “fell instantly in love with these tal- ented virtuosos”, whose songs are all about living on the streets of a ruthless city.


This is a remarkable documentary. It is not just a music film. It is a film that holds dramatic tension in telling the story of a marginalised community who transcend their roots. Through their combined love of music, self belief and optimism, extremely hard work, plus a chance encounter with the film- makers, we witness a dream in the making.


The film chronicles their struggles from the very beginnings over six years. Soon after the start of recording, a fire in their com- pound leaves the band homeless and desti- tute, and their album is put on hold. The film- makers, who are self funding the project, return to France to gather finance.


It is not until a year later, with the band members dispersed, that filming and record- ing can resume. Ricky, the elder and soul of the band, is selling cigarettes and sleeping with his family on the street. Roger, his young protégé who came to him at 13 playing the satonge, a one-string instrument he fashioned himself from a tin can, has moved back to the country. Eventually they come together again to record the album that will change the paths of their lives and fortunes. It became, of course, the fRoots Critics’ Poll album of 2009.


This is an excellent and inspirational film. The story is told without sentimentality or self pity, with humour and empathy. It overthrows the clichés and prejudices associated with handicap and misery, while at the same time posing questions, and challenging our own perceptions of life’s opportunities and purpose.


Benda Bilili! is getting its UK premiere at the London Film Festival, where it is screening in a prestigious ‘Film on the Square’ slot on 21/22 October. It will be released in cinemas in March 2011.


Judith Burrows


THE MEN THEY COULDN’T HANG 25 Year Anniversary Vinyl Star VSRDVD001


The summer of cowpunk may now be no more than a passing footnote in rock refer- ence books but the bands which inspired that brief, nutty, wonderfully diverse scene have left footprints in the sand. The Pogues of course went stratospheric, Helen & The Horns went to obscurity and The Men They Couldn’t Hang, well… they busked on and kept on keeping on until, blimey it’s 25 years since it all began! There is an air of quiet


And the folk music for here and now is raucously brandished with typical pithy spirit, much humour, lots of beery dancing numbers and a shared sentiment that songs like Ghosts Of Cable Street, Scarlet Ribbons, The Colours, Ironmasters, Shirt Of Blue, Rosettes and of course Green Fields Of France remain as rele- vant and effective as ever they did. It’s all wrapped up neatly by the fact that the gig is a return to The Electric Ballroom in Camden, the venue that told them they could have a gig if they found a name and a drummer by sunset. Obviously they did. Amongst many fascinating extras, one German fan proudly discourses how he was fined 10 East German marks for riding his moped singing Going Back To Coventry too loudly. Damn those old leftist regimes, never did know decent socialist tunes when they heard them! The main players Cush, Swill, Paul are all still out there, up front, a little craggier, slightly hoarser but just as pas- sionate, equally committed and raring to share the bounty of a quarter century not out.


“We’re glad we never had a hit single, we’d have never survived that, we’re better off as a cult…” It’s hard to disagree. Alto- gether now… “Hey now Tommy, have you got a new shirt and is it’s colour a fine, bright blue?” Thankfully they’re still writing them like that. Long may they run.


www.tmtch.net Simon Jones


NATI CANO’S MARIACHI LOS CAMPEROS


Lessons In Mariachi Performance Smithsonian Folkways SFW DVD 48008


When gringos think of Mexican music, mari- achi is what they imagine. What they may not realise is how widespread the style is in the United States, where a growing number of schools in major urban areas across the coun- try are offering instruction to young people and cultivating a new generation of entirely US-based ensembles.


LA-based Grammy-winning Natividad ‘Nati’ Cano is the godfather of North Ameri- can mariachi, and this DVD presents an


Staff Benda Bilili


astute, practice-oriented introduction to the instruments and orientation to the sound, covering the main genres (bolero, canción ranchera, danza, huapango, joropo, polka, son) that comprise the mariachi repertoire, followed by 11 performances by Mariachi Los Camperos, and bonus material on guitar- making, string-making, and the production of the traditional traje de chorro uniform worn by the musicians.


Accompanied by an illustrated 40-page booklet in English and Spanish, with notes by ethnomusicologist, Mexican music scholar, and musician, Daniel Sheehy.


www.folkways.si.edu – distributed in the UK by Discovery: www.discovery-records.com


Michael Stone


THE GRENOSIDE TRADITIONAL SWORD DANCERS


The Grenoside Traditional Sword Dancers Garland Films GAR026


Located in what is now the northern suburbs of Sheffield, the Grenoside Sword Dancers have long held an iconic position in English ritual dance. Encountered by Cecil Sharp in 1910, their interlocking swords became the symbol of the EFDSS. This DVD is one way in which the side is marking this centenary and as such you might expect it to be something special; well, it certainly is.


The DVD is effectively in two parts. The first is footage of various performances dat- ing from some amazing grainy silent film from 1927, through other performances over the years with commentary from Lewis Wroe who danced with them for 22 years from 1926, before we get a full performance in high definition filmed in 2009.


The other part is a DVD-ROM that demonstrates meticulous attention to detail. Ten sections give a veritable mass of detail of their history with many photos, films, news- paper and magazine references included. Reading through the long list of members’ biographies from Victorian times to the pre- sent, one becomes aware that this is an amaz- ing social document in itself; looking at the way the occupations have changed, realising the longevity of involvement of many of the dancers. Taking one at random, Walter Fleet- wood danced with them from 1921-1978!


The ways in which, and times when, the costumes changed are also fully noted and as a nice touch, the costume patterns form back- grounds for some of the pages.


Photo: Judith Burrows


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