Brazzaville

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SAPE: Society of Ambienceurs and Elegant People:

At the beginning of the XXth century when the French arrived in Congo, the myth of the Parisian elegance was born among the youth of the Bakongo ethnic group, who were working for the colonizers. At that time, the white man was considered superior, someone showing better manners and elegance. In 1922, Grenard André Matsoua was the first Congolese ever to come back from Paris dressed as a genuine French. His arrival caused indescribable commotion and admiration among his fellow countrymen; he became known as the first Grand Sapeur.

Having the respect and admiration of his community, today’s Sapeurs consider themselves artists. They add a touch of glamour to their humble environment through their refined manners and impeccable dressing styles. Each of them is unique showing a particular repertoire of gestures. They all share the same dream derived from that myth: To go to Paris and return to Brazzaville as an aristocrat of supreme elegance.

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One reason why the rich get richer and the poor get poorer in Congo is nepotism. To have money, you have to be close to power. Even if a poor student studies hard and excels more than all his classmates, if he doesn’t know anyone in a position of influence, he will remain poor. So you see, in our country it’s not the fruits of your labour that bring you wealth. Nepotism really blocks certain classes from rising.
—  Gaston Okombi, 27, a Brazzaville resident who remains unemployed after earning his master’s degree in finance more than a year ago.

CONGO, Brazzaville : Sapeur Patience Moutala, coordinator the Red Devils group and member of “La Sape” movement, the acronym for “Societe des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Elegantes” (The Society for the Advancement of Elegant People), poses in Brazzaville on March 17, 2014. The Sape movement, born in the 1960s in Congo, aims at dressing flamboyantly. AFP PHOTO / JUNIOR D. KANNAH

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VIDEO SHORT:

The Sapeurs

This documentary illustrates the brightly coloured and social affairs that bring the ‘Sapeurs’ together. Their bold choice to live an unexpected lifestyle is a source of celebrated originality and positivity. Their life is not defined by occupation or wealth, but by respect, a moral code and an inspirational display of flair and creativity. The Sapeurs show us that whilst in life you cannot always choose your circumstances, you can always choose who you are.

Being a Sapeur is not about money. We borrow each others’ clothes because we always say, “it’s not about the cost of the suit that counts. It’s the worth of the man inside it.”

When there’s peace, there’s Sape. And when there’s peace, there’s life.

I definitely enjoyed briefly learning the story behind each man and the passion that ties them all together despite the different age gaps.

Just opened in Amsterdam Gentlemen of Bacongo, a photo exhibition that shows the colourful sub-culture of sapeurs in Congo. Sapeurs are Congolese men who turned fashion into a religion

Daniele Tamagni is an Italian freelance photographer, born and based in Milan. He studied art history and conservation of cultural heritage. He worked in a museum and wanted to be a curator and conservator until photography - that was his hobby - became his passion. Tamagni only started four years ago.

What do you want to tell people with your work?
I want to show a positive Africa, positive stories, and go beyond stereotypes. We see a lot of images of African tragedies, but…my pictures don’t idolize Africa. Congo-Brazzaville is a very rich country but people still live in difficult living conditions, there are contrasts.

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The Sapeurs are a group of gentlemen…from Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of Congo. Guinness’ marketing director for Western Europe set out to tell a different  story of the  Congo…

[it has over a million views].

Franklin Boukaka (1940 - 1972) a Brazzaville-born musician and Pan-African activist who was a member of numerous bands in Central Africa throughout the late 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s including Brazzaville’s Negro Jazz Band, the Léopoldville Band Jazz African, and Cercul Jazz.

One of his best known songs, recorded with his band the Cercule Culturel de Bacongo and released in 1967, ‘Pont Sur le Congo’ called for a unification of the two Congos, something seen in his involvement in the music scenes of both countries.

In 1969, he would perform live at the first Pan African Cultural Arts Festival held in Algiers, Algeria, another marker in his life that would spur him towards a deeper Pan-African consciousness. Two years before his untimely death, he recorded and released the album 'Franklin Boukaka à Paris’ arranged by fellow musician and composer, legendary Cameroonian artist Manu Dibango.

In early 1972, as his dissatisfaction with the post-independent government of Congo-Brazzaville president Marien Ngouabi grew, he joined a politically-inclined group that attempted a coup in February of that year. Boukaka was subsequently arrested and his death, which many believe was an execution, was announced shortly after the failed February 22nd revolt.

(source)