Editor’s note: This film is no longer available online.
More than a decade ago, Brazzaville was considered the worst city in the world to live in. But beyond the war and suffering, there exists a different side to the Congo.
In Sunday in Brazzaville , young radio talk show host, Carlos La Menace, unveils in his weekend show three figures of Congo’s capital, Brazzaville.
The Sapeurs adhere to a subculture of high fashion. While they may be surrounded by extreme poverty, they are always dressed impeccably in Versace or Prada, as Yves Saint Laurent, the president of the Sapeur Association, explains.
Elsewhere, rapper Cheriff Bakala is working on recording his first album in a country with almost no producers. Bakala is not a usual rapper; he mixes hip hop with Congolese folk, and uses local instruments, such as drums made out of water cans.
And finally, Palmas Yaya, Brazzaville’s wrestling champion is relying on voodoo to defend his title at a crucial moment in his life.
By Enric Bach and Adria Mones
Most documentaries about Africa that we watch in the Western media portray a sad and dangerous continent, full of wars, refugees and misery. But there is another side to Africa, and we wanted to show it.
We chose the Republic of Congo, seduced by the phenomenon of the “Sape” (Society for the Advancement of Elegant people), a movement of fashion lovers – known as the Sapeurs – who were born in Brazzaville and who were, until recently, practically unknown.
The Sape originated after World War I when Congo was still part of French Equatorial Africa. Many Congolese soldiers defended France against the German army. During their time in France they were impressed by the style and good manners of Parisian dandies – men who placed particular importance upon their appearance.
The Congolese soldiers not only loved their elegance, but also their attitude against war and violence. Back in Brazzaville, they adopted that style and transformed it into a genuine Congolese expression. Some people think that the Sape is a veneration of colonial style and a rejection of African tradition – and this can be a controversial issue. However, when filming our central character Yves Saint Laurent and his fellow Sapeurs, we decided not to judge them. We only asked them to explain who they were and why they chose the Sapeur way of life.
Filming Cheriff Bakala and his band, the FB Stars, was an inspiring experience. Being with them you realise that great music can be made with very few means. Like many bands in Congo, they cannot afford to have a drum set. Instead, they use big plastic cans and they get a great sound out of them, because of their talent.
We were very lucky because we were filming while the band was in the process of recording their first album. The studio was a 20 square metre room, lit up with only one bulb. There was no distinction between the musicians and the sound engineer and, as is usual in many African countries, power cuts often interrupted work. But even in such poor conditions, it was a great quality recording. Cheriff is still trying to find an international label to distribute the album.
We got into the world of wrestling thanks to our local producer, who had access to the main wrestlers and introduced us to the local champion, Palmas Yaya. He was not the strongest wrestler but he said he relied on magic to defeat his opponents. We managed to film a spectacular night of fighting between Brazzaville and Kinshasa’s wrestlers, where Palmas retained his champion’s title.
We got some of the best shots of the film when we followed the Carnival that announces the fighting event. All the wrestlers stood on top of taxis in a parade that travelled around the city. A brass band followed them playing popular Congolese music and people came out of their houses to watch them pass. It is their unique way of advertising the event and it is truly impressive.
Finally, we met Carlos La Menace, one of the best radio talk show hosts in Brazzaville, who allowed us to film his show during the weekend and ended up becoming the narrator of the film. This was our first documentary and it was a great human experience. We really look forward to showing this side of Africa again.