Members of Brazzaville's SAPEURS in Alexandre Van Enst's award-winning ‘Elegance Road’ photo collection.
In 2002, Brazzaville was considered the worst city in the world to live. Now, thanks to the Society of Atmosphere Setters and Elegant People (SAPEURS), the Congolese capital is rather becoming known as the best-dressed, especially after the SAPEURS went viral earlier this year in an advert and short film
for Guinness Europe.
Premiering on Al Jazeera on Sunday, March 23rd, Sunday In Brazzaville is a vibrant glimpse into your average Congo weekend of pink suits, hip hop and wrestling.
The 25-minute documentary focuses on four characters. Yves Francois Ngatsong, alias Yves Saint Laurent, is the president and founder of a SAPEURS association; Carlos La Menace is a DJ on local station Radio Liberté; rapper Cheriff Bakala is recording his first album despite living in a country with hardly any music producers; and champion wrestler Palmas Ya Ya relies on fetish voodoo and faith to help him defeat younger and stronger opponents.
“In the 1940’s, when Hitler occupied Paris, Brazzaville was Free France’s capital,” says La Menace. “Charles de Gaulle lived here. Then they called it ‘Brazzaville the Green.’ Today we call it ‘Brazzaville the Garbage.’ On your left plastic bags, on your right a stinking town… But the Congolese know how to dress. For that matter there’s no problem…”
Ngatsong says that as a government employee, “With my salary I can’t even travel to Kinshasa, because with our salary we barely pay for food and rent.” Despite this, he has 80 complete suits, including one sent to him as a present by his idol Yves Saint Laurent.
“Many of you might think that the SAPE is an eccentricity or a stupid way of dressing,” La Menace says on radio. “Maybe you see a sapeur at the street and say, ‘Look at that fool, he wants to dress like the whites. A madman that spends all his money in suits. A bad example for the youth.’ You may think like that. That’s up to you. But I think you’re wrong. The SAPE is an ode to joy, the joy of living. The SAPE is an art form, the pure wit born from poverty in our streets almost a hundred years ago. Today, thanks to people like Yves Saint Laurent, this art is more alive than ever.”
Sunday In Brazzaville premieres at 22:30 GMT on Sunday, March 23rd on Witness, Al Jazeera’s premiere documentary strand. It repeats at 9:30 GMT on March 24th; at 3:30 GMT on March 25th; and at 16:30 GMT on March 26th.