Tags / La France Libre
On March 24th, Dennis Sassou Nguesso won the presidential election in the Republic of Congo, making him one the oldest rulers in the continent after winning a referendum last September that changed the constitution, allowing candidates aged over 70 and scrapping the two-term limit. But this small Central African country has a cultural movement that transcends politics and aims to become a national symbol.
Yves François Ngatsongo, also known locally by the nickname Yves Saint Laurent, after the world famous fashion designer, is president of “France Libre”, the first association of Sapeur in the Republic of Congo. “La Sape” (Societé des Ambianceurs et Personnes Elegantes) was born during the colonial years.
What started as a resistance movement toward French ruling quickly became one of Brazzaville´s most characteristic symbols, to the point that Irish beer Guinness used them in one of their commercials as a symbol of authenticity. Taxi drivers, teachers or artisans spend their little wages in expensive clothes from Europe to be part of these African dandies.
Sape is becoming increasingly popular among women. They adopt all the “man” attitude that goes with “La Sape”, including the dress code.
On March 8th, sapeurs from different countries took part in a festival to help promote women sapeurs as part of the International Women´s Day.
Republic of Congo and DRC have a never ending battle on where “La Sape” was invented. Despite past tensions, this international festival aimed to put aside those differences and bring the two countries closer.
“L´Hotel de Préfecture” in Brazzaville became the scenario for this international gathering where Sapeurs from different countries walked the red carpet.
Yves François Ngatsongo and “La France Libre” did not miss the opportunity to witness this unique event.
Whereas “Sape” from Republic of Congo has a more classic style, DRC is more extravagant.
Fulizioni from Paris surrounded by supporters.
Ahmed Yalla is a wealthy business man that a few years ago decided to promote “La Sape”. Known as “crocodile man” and widely acclaimed as President of all sapeurs, he organised this international festival.
Yves François Ngatsongo at Maya Maya international Aeroport waiting for the arrival of Paris diaspora.
Sapeurs from France, DRC and Ivory Coast came to Brazzaville to be part of the festival that took place on the International Women´s Day.
“La France Libre” can be hired to promote any kind of activities. In this case, The Ministry of Culture hired its members to go to Brazzaville´s only university, Marien Ngouab, and promote a conference by Beninese speaker Innocent Peya.
From left to right Yolande, Blandine and “First Lady” Pelagie, Yves François Ngatsongos wife.
Disagreements are very common when money is distributed. Thibaud argues with other members of “La France Libre”.
He lives in the outskirts of Brazzaville selling pots for up to $50 a piece.
Whoever hires them agrees on a fee and covers for transportation and drinks.
Thibaud is a taxi driver. He makes around $25 per day after paying the owner of the taxi.
Chameleon (right) with his family. He´s a respected member within “La France Libre”.
Most Sapeurs keep a family tradition that sometimes can be traced back to their grand-fathers. Chameleon´s daughter Reine wants to follow the footstep of his father.
Yves François Ngatsongo founded “La France Libre” in 1996, becoming the first association of Sapeurs in the Republic of Congo.
Master Kif has been a tailor for more than 20 years. He runs a small shop in Brazzaville.
As the world capital of “La Sape”, Brazzaville has dozens of clothing stores like “Paris luxe” where almost any imported item can be found.
Sapeurs can also be hired by anyone to promote personal events. “Tapise” during the opening of a night club in Ouenze, Brazzaville.
Pelagie was one of the first women to embrace “La Sape”. She wants to create the first women association, “La Déese”. This will give her legitimacy and the opportunity to be hired by the Ministry of Culture.
He´s a clear example of what being a Sapeur means to some Congolese who make barely enough to provide for their families. Thibaud´s been saving more than a year to buy a pair of shoes. “It´s a way of life, makes you stand out”.