It looks like a circus tent, or perhaps the former home of a carousel. Wooden booths circle the mirror-paneled perimeter, and a large dance floor faces the small stage. The drapes, walls, and ceiling are deep cherry-pink velour.
When we went into the venue, all the booths were full, and people started to sit on the steps rimming the dance floor. We grabbed a spot. It was funny - it didn't look much like a typical crowd in an American club - here folks were reading newspapers while they waited for the show to start.
The lokole player in the All-Stars is also one of the lead singers, and he was very charismatic on stage, working with the crowd.
Two female singers/dancers alternated onstage, and from my position in the wings I caught this photo of one singer pensively watching, waiting, while her sister took her turn in the lights.
Here's a video clip I took showing a dance performance from the Kasai All-Stars.
When the set ended, we took an intermission out in the courtyard. Then back into the great pink tent for the next set. This time I took my position on the stage left side, behind the monitor mix board.
One of the most striking stars of Staff Benda Bilili is a tall, slim young musician, Roger Landu. A homeless kid, adopted by Ricky and Coco, he's now in his late teens or early 20's.
Staff Benda Bilili's name means something like "look beyond appearances" or "put forward what is hidden." Given the band's unique story, it's a great name.
At the end of the evening, the headliner act came onstage. Konono No. 1's full name is "L'orchestra folklorique T.P. Konono No. 1 de Mingiedi" - named for its founder, Mawangu Mingiedi. Now in his late 70's, he started the band in the 1970's, adapting traditional music from his homeland and ethnic group, the Zombo, located near the Congolese border of Angola.
A striking visual element in their performances are the two large speaker cones that flank the stage - old Belgian colonial-era lance-voix, or emergency public-address system speakers.
With three likembe in varying pitches taking the lead along with two vocals, it all adds up to a thick, textured, buzzy cacaphony - a true "wall of sound" that would blow Phil Spector's socks off.
He and the two vocalists, Mbuka Msiala, whose sweet dancing rocked, and Menga Maku, bespectacled and a little nerdy like a math teacher, had great chemistry onstage.
Our night out ended with a bit of an unexpected adventure, though - near the end of Konono No. 1's set, we noticed the dance floor quickly clear out. What was going on? we wondered. Oh, never mind - we could finally score an empty booth and sit down with a beer. But when the show ended, we discovered that - Ooops! The last Metro train had gone, and we were stranded in Parc de la Villette!
Fortunately, a kindly coat-check girl and security guard helped us out by calling a Taxi and directing us to where it would pick us up. In the back seat, we frantically counted our coins, hoping to have enough cash to make it back to Montparnasse.
Whew! Enough! we made it home by 1:00 a.m. - pleased with our adventure.