All posts by Colin Baker

Les Sapeurs de Black Bazar

La Culture des Sapeurs

En faisant des recherches pour les thèmes du roman Black Bazar, j’ai trouvé une mine d’information sur la mode du protagonist, celle du “Sapeur”. Le mot sapeur vient de la “Société des Ambianceurs et Persons Élégants,” une groupe des hommes congolais de Brazzaville très bien habillés dans les en habits de Versace, D&G, Prada, Gucci, etc. La mode sapeur a décollé pendant les années 70 et 80s quand le fondateur du mouvement Papa Wemba (un chanteur congolais) a introduit la haute couture française aux hommes congolais.

“Multiple trips to Paris in the early 1980s only fueled his fever for French fashion, and Papa Wemba soon developed a flamboyant, exaggerated style that was in direct opposition to the Mobutu-approved uniform… it was a throwback to the elegance of the 1930s—complete with tapered trousers, brogues, neatly trimmed hair and tweed hats worn at a rakish angle. For Congolese all over the world, the look was irresistible. SAPE was born.”

Pendant cet introduction, les sapeurs se sont développés une culture unique et durable en Brazzaville et Kinshasa. Et récemment les sapeurs attirent beaucoup d’attention des écrivains et photographes de mode, et même la culture populaire. Le photographe Héctor Médiavilla photographie et traite des Sapeurs pendant neuf ans. En parlant de la logique et la philosophie des sapeurs, il dit:

“A Sapeur, by definition is a non-violent person, despite the 3 civil wars that have taken place since the independence. They stand for an exquisite morality, but as they say ‘There can only be Sape when there is peace.’ They represent an illusion that has been supported by the government itself, trying to normalize a post-war situation.”

On peut regarder ses photographes ici:

Tom Downey du Wall Street Journal a écrit un intime des sapeurs et a conclu:

“Watching him walk onto the dance floor I realize that when men dress as Sapeurs they become different people. Their gait, their gestures, and their manner of speaking are all transformed. The clothes are the gateway into a whole other way of being in the world.”


Le photographe italien Francesco Giusti a un portfolio sublime des photos des sapeurs:

Solange Beyoncé a enregistré sa nouvelle chanson “Losing You” avec des Sapeurs de Brazzaville.


Mabanckou a produit un album après la nouveauté de Black Bazar qui présente des musiciens congolais pour “changer comment on comprend la musique africaine.” Dans le clip vidéo en dessous on voit un camée de Mabanckou lui-même. Cette chanson parle directement de Black Bazar et le style des sapeurs.




Thoughts on “In a Ban, a Measure of European Tolerance”

This past week, the NYTimes published a piece on the aftermath of the passage of a law banning face covering veils. According to the article there seems to be a relative peace, one in which police and veiling-wearing women acknowledge the law but usually don’t act on it. Most affected women pull their veils off when they encounter police (rather than actively protest it), and most police either accept this or issue a small warning (rather than issue a fine).

The law has had very little actual impact on the daily lives of Muslim women. “Since the law went into effect, 425 women wearing full-face veils have been fined up to 150 euros ($188) each and 66 others have received warnings.” The police has no interest in increasing racial and religious tensions.

While debate over the law and its impacts reached a fever pitch before its passage, the reality of of life under the law is that very little has changed. Critics argued the law would increase tensions between the police and immigrant and Muslim populations in France. But, tolerance shown by both groups involved has led to a situation different from what many projected.

While this article was somewhat heartening to me because it hasn’t significantly increased tension or caused more conflict, it has made me reflect on the reasoning behind the law. As an American, I have had difficulty wrapping my head around the purpose of the law. On the one hand, I see it and the American perception of freedom of religion and expression as irreconcilable. I cannot fathom such a law passing Congress and being signed into law, much less upheld by a court in the U.S. But, on the other hand, I’ve slowly begun to understand that my American perceptions of these freedoms and the perspective of many French people and the French government (at least under Sarkozy, when the law was passed), are entirely different. though the American government and society and those of France are based largely on the same fundamental ideas of freedom, the realization of them are immensely different. I may be off on this, but I feel that in the U.S., we have codified freedoms and rights that are expressed and realized in any number of ways. But in France, I feel, many of the same freedoms and rights are codified, but there is a unique manner in which they’re realized. This manner is seen as the best possible to preserve longterm and society-wide acceptance of these freedoms.

In a sense, I see France as almost forcing assimilation with a “French” way of freedom. Indeed, the article notes that supporters believe that “France needed to protect its “republican values” of secularism in the public space; many also said that France’s Muslims, immigrants and French-born, must accept French norms.”

These beliefs reminds me of Achille Mbembe’s point from his 2005 articles written during and after the banlieue rights that the French government hasn’t come to terms with a post-colonial world and how to govern in it. Just as the French government forced (or tried to force) its colonial subjects in the Caribbean, Africa and Southeast Asia to assimilate with French society – celui des Français de souche ou des Français blancs du métropole – the government today imposes itself on the immigrants and minority citizens in an effort to force them to be “French.” These immigrants and minority citizens, then, can’t just immigrate to France and be considered “French” – they must display that they have given up their past ideas of governance, freedom, rights, etc. and accepted and embraced those of France to become “French.” The veil law seems to be an expression of the French government forcing those who aren’t “French” to become it – imposing itself on those who are racially and religious different or in the minority.  Sounds like quintessential neo-colonialism to me.