Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Stop Filming Us: a movie set in the RDC

 "Stop Filming Us" is one of the selections at the Mill Valley Film Festival this year. 

It's a documentary set in the city of Goma in the northeastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, on the shore of Lake Kivu, close to Rwanda. 

It's a multi-faceted view not only of the town and its inhabitants, but also how so many Sub-Saharan Africans have to grapple with the consequences of colonization, Young Congolese discuss the need to "decolonize one's brain," and the fact that many traditions, legends, and more have already disappeared from the collective mind.
The issue of the multitude of foreign NGOs in Goma is also brought up.

From their website:

Screening note: This digital screening is available to view between 12:01am PT on Friday, October 9, and 11:59pm PT on Sunday, October 18, and is available to ticket buyers and passholders within the United States.


Dutch documentarian Joris Postema sets out to show life in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s troubled northeast beyond the bleeding headlines of western news. What he ends up with is a stirring reflection on the complexities of cross-cultural representation. While training the lens on the former Belgian colony’s own image-makers—artists, photographers, and other filmmakers—Postema also flips the script to capture the frank, spontaneous exchanges among his largely local crew about what they should be shooting. Problems immediately arise with seemingly innocuous decisions like where they each should sit for a discussion and persist into bigger decisions like where to point the camera and who gets to ask the questions. The Congolese themselves are divided about the value of this, as they openly confess, but for Postema’s intended audience of do-gooder westerners, it’s a real eye-opener. As one crew member puts in the easiest terms imaginable, "the problem is not here with us but there with you." TV5Monde | CFI French Cinema Sponsor

Via the Festival, you can only watch it until October 18, and have to live in the United States. However, I'm sure it is and/or will be available on other platforms.

It's a thought-provoking film, well worth the watch for all those interested in the future of the African continent.

Monday, April 20, 2020

A modern fairy tale from By Kids for Kids about the Coronavirus epidemic

The By Kids For Kids podcast - usually recording in-studio stories narrated by the under 15 set, for the listening pleasure of children all over - had to quickly reconvert to doing the podcast remotely, as the entire world shelters in place to the Covid-19 pandemic.

This is their "intercontinental" narration of a modern fairy tale to explain the need for confinement and the many challenges it presents. Children from Germany, South Africa, Kenya, Mexico, Canada, Singapore, and Australia participated.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Africa-centered activities while hunkering down

In happier days - a celebration
You're home, you're bored.
What activities can you do that you usually don't have time for - and you have an affinity for, or a relationship with Sub-Saharan Africa?

Of course we can start with the news. Much of it is depressing - about how many cases of Covid19 are in Africa, who passed away - all sad and frightening.

However there are bright spots! Among fashion designers and tailors/sew mistresses around the world, a Rwandan designer is creating masks made of African fabric. They are not medically approved, but at least there is a physical barrier.

Other activities:

- Submit a film to the Mobile Film Festival!
As per their site: Founded in 2005, the Mobile Film Festival is an international Festival of short-length movies, based on an simple principle: 1 Mobile, 1 Minute, 1 Film And further: The Mobile Film Festival is a 100% digital festival, thus aiming at reaching the largest audience. Yet, its short and creative format, as well as the technical quality of the films, enable a broadcasting of the films on all screens: smartphones, computers, TVs, cinema theaters, …

- Listen to all the music, old and new, from Africa. These are some of my favorites:

Cameroon (which I know best)
  • all the old Dina Bell songs: the first one I ever heard, and learned to dance the Makossa to, is "yoma yoma," a Cameroonian classic. I also adore his romantic songs, such as "Essèlè Nika "(loosely "let [me] be") - I was trying to obtain the entire text translated from Duala, and now found it in the comments! - or "Sophie." It appears that with Dina Bell, either you love his songs or you are indifferent. I love them!
  • A more intellectual yet popular Cameroonian singer is Toto Guillaume, one of my favorites, another makossa dance piece is "Mba na na é" (1981).
  • The world-famous Soul Makossa is from Manu Dibango.
  • I would be remiss if I didn't mention (from the older Cameroonian set) Ben Decca, Grace Decca, Ekambi Brillant, Charlotte Mbango, Prince Eyango, André-Marie Tala, and the list goes on. Petit Pays, who's become too crude in recent years. Please feel free to enter your favorites in the comments!
  • Richard Bona, who is such a talented musician that I don't know where to start. He started with Harry Belafonte and now plays all over the world, including with other musicians and bands (Salif Keita, .
  • I discovered Soraya Ebelle last year, she has a wonderful voice.
  • And let's not forget Zangelewa! That was the Cameroonian song that inspired Shakira's famous Waka Waka song. I watched an interview on 60 Minutes, and she never mentioned that this was not her original song!
My personal favorites from outside Cameroon
  • While watching the series "An African City*" I heard the song "Monkey Money" sung by Lady Jaywah, which was so much fun, and funny too!
  • The hit in the eighties or nineties was Premier Gao. The lyrics are worth nothing, but great for dancing.
  • Angélique Kidjo is still going strong, well-known in the United States: she just had to cancel a concert in Carnegie Hall, along with a plethora of other musicians, such as Yemi Alade. They sang together in "Shekere." 
  • And the incomparable Fela Anikulapo Kuti. 
  • And the incomparable Miriam Makeba.

- In order to understand a little of the songs in African languages, learn one on Je Parle L'Afrique 2.0. At the moment the base language is French, but English will be next. Among the languages taught: Bassa (the founder's parents' language), Duala, Wolof, Bambara, Lingala, Haoussa, Yoruba, Ewe, Pulaar, and many more!

- Watch African movies and TV shows.
  • Above I mentioned "An African City*," a series originally on YouTube portraying 5 young professional women in Ghana.  Netflix is showing an African series: Queen Sono
  • Movies on Netflix 
  • The classics by Sembene Ousmane, for example Camp de Thiayoré (shattering) and so many more.
  • Films by Henri Duparc such as "Le sixième doigt."
  • An African movie won the Grand Prix at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival (2020 has been cancelled): "Atlantics" - by a female director to boot.
  • The Shore Break - true story set in South Africa
-  Read novels - here is a list of five novels written by female authors I read last year.

This is a very incomplete list, and I welcome all additions!

* Not for the young set - rather R-rated.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Mboko Lagriffe - Cameroon design goes flying

A few years ago, I wrote about Mboko Lagriffe's "Barbebuexpo" in Douala: a novel way of organizing an art fair.

In the meantime, he has not been idle. He continued painting, organizing bi-annual Barbecuexpo art fairs, designing household items, but the big "coup" has been to win the competition for a new design on Royal Air Maroc (RAM) airplanes.

In 2016, Royal Air Maroc organized a competition, Wings of African Art, to decorate the exterior fuselage of its airplanes. The jury president was Mehdi Qotbi, head of the National Foundation of Museums of the Moroccan Kingdom, and included artists and critics of renown. There were three winners: Mboko Lagriffe from Cameroon, the Franco-Moroccan Sara Ouhaddou, and Saidou Dicko from Burkina Faso. Mboko Lagriffe also won the public vote. 

The "Love" Royal Air Maroc plane (photo: Dayot JC)

The Love plane in the air (photo: Guillaume Février)

Painting: Frontières Irréelles (Unreal borders)

"Flower Mask" mug (photo: Orphee Noubissi) 

"Return from the field" mug (photo: Orphee Noubissi) 

Flip flops (photo: Orphee Noubissi) 
The three airplanes are in the air, currently serving Royal Air Maroc's 80-plus destinations. Kudos to RAM for this initiative. Next, a design competition for the uniforms, perhaps?

What's next for Mboko Lagriffe? He is planning to launch his home accessories line worldwide via Amazon... we hope, soon! I have 2 mugs of my own, purchased in 2016, that I guard jealously, as it's difficult for me to get new ones at the moment.
My mugs, purchased in 2016.

Articles in French:

Friday, December 20, 2019

The African Dwelling - From Traditional to Western Style Homes (McFarland, 2019) is published.

The book The African Dwelling - From Traditional to Western Style Homes (McFarland, 2019) is published, and available in many countries.
It is the English-language version of the French-language book De la case à la villa (Riveneuve, 2014). However, it is not a replica: the book has been updated to reflect more current naming methodology, with some updated images, and includes an index.
There are still about 200 images, in black and white.
The foreword is by Jack Travis, FAIA.

It is my hope that this book will be found in universities as well as personal libraries around the world, as a resource on the evolution of housing in Sub-Saharan Africa, as well as a repository for African terms that may not be easily found anymore.

Below is a gallery of additional/color photographs. I'll continue posting color photographs as time goes on.

Kain Tukuru home in Bonendalé, Cameroon, built 1953-1954
Entrance to a Bamiléké village, photo courtesy Amélie Essesse

Bah Family home in Bodje, Guinea, built around 1990,
architect: Epee Ellong.

The Midwest Review of Books published a review in November 2019.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

The Kraal on Instagram: an expression of African cultural pride

Masks, Initiés du Bassin du Congo, at the former Musée Dapper*
A few years ago, I found out that the hype about Instagram was justified. I found it to be a great platform to post photos, and it's useful for those aiming to sell a product, as I have already purchased items from several vendors seen on Instagram! And not to forget the beautiful and inspirational photos and posts from all over the world.

It is also a platform for cultural exchange. As a person with more than a little interest in Africa, I soon started following @the.kraal. The stated mission: 
"Exploring the magic of Africa and the diaspora through history, culture, traditions, spirituality, and more."
The feed covers many regions of Africa, especially Sub-Saharan. It features traditions, art, religious practices, but also known and lesser-known heroes of Africa. 
So little is known about Africa's history. Not only that there were kingdoms and erudition in pre-colonial times, but post-colonial heroism is often kept under wraps. Some have well-known names, like Patrice Lumumba; others I had never heard of.

I often comment, but finally curiosity won out, and I reached out to find out more about the person and the motivation behind the feed. Below is my email interview.
Women from the chiefdom of Bamendjou on a ceremonial day

1. Which mysterious entity is behind @the.kraal Instagram feed?
First of all, thank you for personally reaching out to me and for showing love since day one! I am originally from Côte d'Ivoire. I prefer to remain anonymous for now.

2. What was the impetus? When did you start the feed, and what were some of the first posts? 
The Kraal started a while ago. Since I was a kid, I’ve always been in books, researching, studying, and learning so all that work started a while ago. I remember putting together tons of archives about African/black history and culture into binders, which I still treasure to this day. Also, I grew in a household and in a family where all that was really important. My aunt, for example, created the National Library of Côte D’Ivoire so these genes probably helped. 

Actually, I used to do something similar to the Kraal, maybe 10 years ago on Facebook but it wasn’t really organized that way, and I was still very young. Consistency wasn’t something I really knew lol. That’s when I first got the fire before the journey led me back to the point we’re at today. 

Now, the actual instagram feed that we know as The Kraal started as part of my MBA final project. I did media management and instead of writing a thesis, we had to build a media brand and I used The Kraal. I started this feed 2 years ago, and the first posts were about African textiles. 

3. Why the Afrikaans name: Kraal? 
I was waiting for that question, thank you. Words are really powerful. 

I grew up watching Shaka Zulu and the social organizations were called Kraal: royal Kraal, military Kraal, etc… I really love the word and what it represents; that feeling of community, union, and HOME. Also, the way the word sounds is rather catchy. 

Now, it is true that Afrikaans is not an African language (note from Away From Africa: it can be defined as an African language by now, even if the origin is European) and I had a few people complaining about it. To that, I always ask; what language are you using when you communicate with me? What language do you mostly use to interact with people? How many of us, Africans, can speak, think and identify themselves at 100% within an African language? 

In our case, I think we must focus on the message rather than the messenger. When people find out that I’m really an African, they calm down... 
Let me take another example. The Swastika, a symbol of good fortune, found in almost many ancient cultures & traditions. Today, it is associated with nazism and a lot of extremist groups use it. Men give things their meaning and the more people will subscribe to the definition of something, the more that definition will become the norm. Let’s just look at the evolution of language in general… I love to travel at the root of things and a word, at the end of the day, is just a more pronounced utterance of breath fashioned by the mouth and tongue. I’m an African and I resonate with the word “Kraal” without feeling like I’m not respecting my culture. I grew up with that word. I also asked a few South Africans, and I was happy to find out that, indeed, the word is part of their vocabulary. 

4. What keeps you going? Which goal(s) would you like to reach?
The love.
As for the goals, I wish to continue to do my best work and hopefully, reach more people.

5. Who is your target audience?
Everyone who has a genuine interest in Africa and the black world, as I like to call it. My biggest dream may be, through this platform, to have Africa and the diaspora reconnect. Let’s look at Brazil, for example, the country with the largest black population outside of Africa. How can we reconnect them to the motherland in an authentic manner and share our experiences, through storytelling? That’s the kind of question I’m asking myself. I personally don’t put The Kraal inside a box at all. 

6. Do you get unfriendly/aggressive comments?
Yes, I do.

7. What were some of the comments you most appreciated? 
Those from people that share their knowledge and experiences. 

8. Your favorite posts?
I put the same energy into every post but most recently, I really enjoyed the work I did on serpent symbolism. The story of Che Guevara in Congo was also very well received.

9. Who inspires you? 
Everything and everyone. Life itself is the inspiration.

10. What keeps you going?
Passion and breath.

11. What are your sources? 
I obtain the ideas for the posts from everywhere, including all over the web.

12. When will the book come out?
If you can help me put it together, I’ll say soon then! ;) 
(Note from Away From Africa: with pleasure! It's a long road.)

*The Musée Dapper in Paris is now closed. It may have been the only nonprofit private museum in Paris.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Last 4 days for this Indiegogo campaign: a film on Rudolf Manga Bell

The German King is set in 1914 at the start of World War I in Kamerun (now called Cameroon.) Our hero is Rudolf Manga Bell, the African King of the Duala people. However, their land is under the rule of Germany and after he and his people are pushed too far, he decides to rise up and lead a rebellion. Despite his best efforts, he is eventually captured by the Germans and sacrifices his life for his people. To this day, the people of Cameroon remember Manga Bell as a king, a martyr, and a hero. History has long overshadowed his heroism, our goal is to create a film to honor the man and his legacy.  Help us bring this incredible true story to life.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Vickie Fremont brings her art to Harare

Belatedly, a post about Vickie Fremont's exhibition at HIFA in Harare, Zimbabwe.

This exhibition took place from May 1 to May 6, 2018, under the title “Birds of Freedom”, as part of the 18th edition of the Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA), which will run under the theme “We Count”.
Vickie Frémont , as we know from various articles and blog posts, "has been conducting workshops around the world, using a hands-on approach for the transformation of rejects or trash into useful everyday objects. Her workshops... take place in schools, community centers, universities, and even in commercial malls. They include lectures on the destructive effects that trash of every kind has on the environment and on climate change.
She has conducted her workshops using recycled materials at The Fashion Institute of Technology,
Vickie Fremont at HIFA
The Bank Street School for Children, The Henry Street Settlement in New York City, Community Works, and numerous museums, libraries, and public and private schools" (from the HIFA press release). 

And may we add that she has been on at least two tours of Peru for the Alliance Française?

The show “Birds of Freedom” included: 
A map of Africa, a map of Cameroon, a country where more than 130 dialects are spoken: showing the country’s rivers and borders embroidered with trade beads, many of which have been used in the slave trade, large puppets representing some African countries with their traditional textiles (Cameroon, Mali, Kenya, Congo), and Birds and their nests: artworks similar to the puppets using recycled materials, in which beads, fabrics and recycled materials such as coat hangers, CDs, old rags, plastic containers, and cutting boards are combined; the resulting work bears no resemblance to any of the original materials.

"The show Birds of Freedom is about the connection between continents, and the waves of migration. Birds don't have borders but they know how to go back to where they came from.
Many people from African countries emigrate to find jobs. The 12 birds portrayed symbolize the movement, the migration, and the central nests are the guarantee that a return home is always possible.
Vickie Frémont has an abiding passion for the art, culture, and music of Africa. Although Vickie left Africa many years ago, Africa has not left her." (from the press release)

Introductory Away From Africa post about Vickie.
More African puppets by Vickie.
Tel. +1 212 283 70 72 USA
Email: myhandsmytools@gmail.com

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Atelier Lilikpó: Sika Viagbo, Parisian mosaic decor

Two tables, one design, by Lilikpó
The Viaduc des Arts in the twelfth arrondissement in Paris now houses cafés and chic shops, including the Lilikpó workshop managed by Sika Viagbo.

Walking by, the first thing you notice is the originality and the beauty of the creations through the store window.

It's a workshop visible from the street: the designer, Sika Viagbo, works on her creations in front of passersby eyes.

Before starting her own company, she worked with Pierre Mesguich (Paris), an internationally known mosaic designer, who has worked all over the world. Sika also interned separately in Tokyo and in China.

The company's name means "cloud" in Ewé, one of the languages spoken in Togo, where her parents immigrated from. Her own design influences are multicultural, inspired by her travels and experience.

How did Sika get started in this profession?
She grew up in Vitry sur Seine, a Paris
suburb. As a music major at the University of St. Denis Paris 8, she discovered the art of mosaic making, and at first made it into her hobby. One of her friends saw her work, and put in an order for decor for a relative's hairdressing salon. At that junction, Sika decided to make it her profession.

After interning at Pierre Mesguich, she studied architecture for two years, in order to better understand interior design construction sites, as her main customers are architects, interior designers, and decorators. At the outcome of these two years, she opened her own workshop.

Her inspiration? Fashion, textiles, embroidery, art exhibitions... everything in her surroundings... it is hard to pinpoint exactly what influences the final product.

WIshing Sika and Lilikpò all the best, competing in one of the world's design capitals, Paris!

Sika and the architect Amélie Essesse
Work in progress


Monday, January 1, 2018

Fashion: Made in Africa - Zuri's "One Dress"

Zuri dresses in San Francisco
Thanks to the internet, and the global economy, Made in Africa fashion is becoming more mainstream than ever before.

Two partners had a hit on their hands when they designed and produced one simple dress, in a variety of African print fabrics: Zuri. The company has been featured in the New York Times and the San Francisco Chronicle, among other publications.

Zuri has a brick and mortar shop in New York City, but San Francisco residents got a first taste at the pop up shop, in October 2017.

The dresses' reputation caught the attention of Eden Stein, owner of Secession Art and Design. Usually only local designers are featured, but her customers were clamoring for the dresses.
A Zuri dress in the Secession store window

In her words: "I was at a gala for Artspan, mingling with 800 emerging and established artists, when I saw artist Soad A. Kader in her Zuri dress. I beelined to give her a compliment. She told me about a pop up they were doing that weekend in SF. I went and instantly connected with the designers. This wearable art gem is the perfect dress buttoned or easy as a coat over a more casual look. One dress that fits so many women is helping create a sustainable economy in Kenya for the Zuri production team.  I feel honored to be their first store in San Francisco. This is a great way to connect our local design community with what is happening globally."

The dresses initial conception was through Sandra Zhao, who needed to travel in Africa with clothing that would be comfortable, stylish, yet easy to pack.
She later met Ashleigh Miller, who was taken with the concept of comfort + style (she was pregnant at the time), and they partnered to create the business.

A short interview with Sandra and Ashleigh:
The partners: Sandra Zhao and Ashleigh Miller
in San Francisco
- How do you choose the fabrics? 
We select our fabrics based on a couple of factors: 1) quality of the material (we try to select material that we know to be colorfast, 100% cotton, and preferably unwaxed finish for a more natural swing when worn); 2) design: we pick what we love! We try and pay attention to seasonality in the United States, but in general, we just pick the prints we like.  There are SO many to choose from; it's a serious exercise in filtering, but luckily we have the same taste, so we agree on pretty much everything. Additionally, if a customer writes to us, and says there is a color or print they'd love to see, we always keep my eyes open to make sure we get it for them (for everyone who writes, we assume there are others who feel the same way).
- How do you handle production with local tailors?
We have worked with a couple different ethical manufacturing partners who do our bulk production here in Kenya. They're amazing! We are really proud of the impact they have on the local communities, as well as (of course) the quality of their work. We also work with a tailor here in Nairobi who has been our rock through this whole process. She got us started and helped us push through our first flood of orders; she's been our advisor, our champion (and sometimes, our psychologist...).  We still work with her team to do our prototypes for new products before having the digital pattern made.
Zuri dresses production at Soko
- How many people earn a livelihood thanks to Zuri?
We are currently working with 32 tailors and cutters to produce our dresses. Additionally, we buy huge amounts of fabric every 3 weeks from about 20 independent kitenge dealers in Tanzania.  We have a couple of point people there who source for us between trips, and then of course the baskets, shukas, our motorbike ("boda boda") team for local deliveries, etc.  I'd say we probably fully support 40 people, and Zuri is a major part of the monthly income for another 20 people.

- Zuri opened a San Francisco store on Fillmore Street in September, for at least 4 months.

- Secession Art & Design hosted a pop-up for clothing designers Zuri on Friday, March 30, 4-8pm. Designers Ashleigh and Sandra had recently spent time in Africa, choosing new fabrics for spring and meeting with their makers. They told the stories behind what it's like to work globally and create a fair-trade "one dress" that looks good on so many women.  #JustOneDress 

Fabric shopping - Kariakoo market, Dar es Salaam, TZ
Without any pretense at philosophy or economics, Made in Africa is slowly but surely on the rise, with both "born in Africa" and foreign designers. In the specific case of fashion and the clothing industry, it is important that local professionals continue to be employed, as their livelihood has been reduced though imports of donated clothing from the Western world, as well as Chinese imports (it was sad to see that the "daishiki" fabric popular in the sixties and seventies is now polyester, made in China). The future, hopefully, will bring ever larger operations to the continent, and renewed confidence in the capacity of local industries.

A previous Away From Africa blog post about fashion and clothing in Africa: http://www.awayfromafrica.com/2010/08/traditional-and-contemporary-dress-from.html