Mike Opitz Song Writing and Theory Project

Featuring the Karma Refugees

Benda Bilili

Benda Bilili

Staff Benda Bilili playing in Cannes. Note how the band integrates James Brown (“sex machine”) from American funk into the song.

“Kaluna” (Street Gangs) My favorite clip from the movie shows the band on their first trip to France and the reception they received from a white audience.

Je t’aime

“Margarita” He sings to and of his sister who lives on the other side of the river but cannot cross due to warring factions. I include this as a direct example of Cuban music and its presence in The Congo.

Benda Bilili plays reggae on the Jools Holland television show in a clip included in the section on “Midnight in Triana” on our website. These clips provide a brief sonic commentary on the global reach of technologically produced music or even just music. The transformations of the symbols of rock—electric guitar into an instrument made from discarded junk—the trap set into some cans and logs—the handsome, rebellious singer and guitarist into real outcasts in wheelchairs—illustrates the journey.

Or this journey also—illustrated in one of my favorite old reggae songs, “Open the Gate,” by The Ethiopians who say: “I don’t have a red cent to pay/ I’ve got to reach home one day. We were taken away by force/ scattered around the Caribbean coast. Open the Gates of Zion/ Let I’n’I come in.”

All this wonderful music, born out of slavery, returns to Africa and is reflected In Benda Bilili

12. Song and Film – The Global Reach of Music

Every year when the Karma Refugees record music, we also have a conversation about it. This often involves watching films during the down time—exploring old favorites (The Clash, Westway to the World, or a black and white film of a Thelonius Monk concert). One year the film was Benda Bilili. Tom, who is a scholar of global cinema, brought it for us to watch. The film and our conversations about it lead to the musical exploration if this entry. This is an example of the kind of expression and thinking that this project aims to be. It is not linear, not limited to one mode of expression, and conceived as a “constellation” of ideas (Benjamin’s method). I call this montage practice. Is it?

A brief visual introduction to Eisenstein’s 5 kinds of montage.

Our kind of montage.

In October of 2012, Tom journeyed to New York to see Benda Bilili play. His commentary on this concert is at the conclusion of our section on the making of our song, “Midnight in Triana.” Tom’s review provides a fitting conclusion to our journey through making this song—inspired by and commenting on the experience of Benda Bilili. I want to call this experience—as it is expressed here—a montage—made up of myriad elements of thought, music playing, creative co-operation, writing, harmonizing, mixing sound, watching images, making images, non-verbal signals, live playing—and more. This kind of montage is the model for this entire project.

“Midnight in Triana” by The Karma Refugees explores flamenco, Congolese styles, reggae and the global reach of music.


%d bloggers like this: