Thursday, September 29, 2011

Paris’ Black Jewish Community

L'Shanah Tovah! Happy New Year to the Jewish Community!

I am pleased to bring you this posting on Paris's Black Jewish Community for
Rosh Hashanah (28 September 2011).


Guershon Nduwa
Photo from Reveil

Guershon Nduwa is the president of the Fraternité Judéo-noire (Black Jewish Fraternity) in Paris and the surrounding region (Ile-de-France). Originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, he went to Israel in 1988 to study Hebrew Civilization. He was welcomed and embraced by those he met in Israel, learned their customs, and converted to Judaism in 1995 at the age of 28. He moved to France in 1993 and works as a psychologist for Médecins sans frontières (Doctors without Borders).

There are approximately 250 black Jewish families living in Ile-de-France, most of whom are of Ethiopian origin. They represent 5% of the entire Jewish population of France. While the majority of the Sephardic and Ashkenazi communities in the area have not readily accepted them, they have been welcomed by the minority French Masorti, or Conservative Jewish community. Conservative Jews were themselves poorly accepted by the orthodox Sephardic and Ashkenazi communities when they arrived in France.

At an event celebrating the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the first Masorti synagogue in France, Nduwa spoke to a throng of people to present his belief that black Jews should establish their own synagogue to provide the visibility and respect that they have found lacking. He launched a project in 2008 to raise 300 000 euros to establish a black synagogue and community center in Levallois-Perret, a suburb that borders Paris to the northwest.

Nduwa founded the Fraternité Judéo-noire in 2007 as a means of increasing the visibility of the black Jewish community. Its purpose is to strengthen the ties between black and white Jews, and its membership consists of persons of both races.


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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Homage to African Soldiers Fighting in the Two World Wars

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Program for "Hommage aux Soldats Africains des Deux Guerres"

On September 10, 2011, the Mairie of the 20th arrondissement held a half-day event in honor of the African soldiers who fought during World Wars I and II. The program consisted of a concert by NYSYMB Lascony and the Panafrican Jazz Orchestra, the screening of Lisolo na Bisu, a film about Congolese soldiers during the two wars, and a debate between two scholars about Africa’s economic contribution to these wars. A cocktail followed the event.

The program opened with Ferdinand Ezembe, president of the organization Cercle d'Action Pour la Promotion de la Diversité (CAPDIV); Lamine Gassama, Deputy Mayor of the 20th arrondissement; and George Pau-Langevin, first and only black member of the French National Assembly representing Paris (the 20th arrondissement), addressing the audience. CAPDIV was the principal organizer of the event.*

Ferdinand Ezembe, Lamine Gassama, and George Pau-Langevin
Photo courtesy of Ferdinand Ezembe, CAPDIV

The concert was the highlight of the day – the film was difficult to see and understand due to the awkward placement of the screen in the room and poor sound quality, and the debate, though lively and informative, occurred late in the day when people were tired and were also being enticed by the aroma of food being prepared for the cocktail buffet.

Ngombulu Ya Sangui Ya Mina Bantu (NYSYMB) Lascony is a writer, documentary filmmaker, historiographer, and jazz orchestra leader. Born in Brazzaville and raised in Paris, he now splits his time between Accra, Ghana and Paris. He brought together some of Paris’ best known jazz musicians to play in his Panafrican Jazz Orchestra. Bobby Few was on piano, Tom McKenzie on bass, Eddie Smith on drums, and Rasul Siddik on trumpet. Three alto saxophonists participated: Chance Evans, King Blaise, and Lascony’s son Zephania, who is only eleven years old! The group played for roughly an hour, and featured many John Coltrane compositions. Lascony performed spoken word before and during the concert, and had a masterful presence on stage.

NYSYMB Lascony (standing, with hat) and the Panafrican Jazz Orchestra
© Discover Paris

Left to right: Rasul Siddik, NYSYMB Lascony, and Zephania Lascony
© Discover Paris

The film Lisolo na Bisu presented the story of the Congolese soldiers who fought in both World Wars. Those returning to Congo after these wars were changed men, and what they experienced on European soil contributed to the series of events that led to Congo’s independence. Lisolo na Bisu was also the name of an exposition mounted at the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History in Brussels last year.

The debate on Africa’s economic contribution was a spirited one. Among the topics discussed were the origin of the "petit nègre" language that was taught to African soldiers by the French, the fact that the term tirailleur sénégalais was a generic term that was applied to African soldiers from any of the colonies of French Equatorial Africa, and that forced labor akin to slavery was imposed on Africans to supply the raw materials and the food products needed to support the war effort in Europe. Journalist Paul Heutching moderated the discussion between historian Cathérine Coquery Vidrovitch and researcher Anicet Mobe.

Left to right: Cathérine Coquery Vidrovitch, Paul Heutching, and Anicet Mobe
© Discover Paris!

Several organizations co-sponsored the event along with CAPDIV, including the Paris Mayor’s office, the Mairie of the 20th arrondissement, and the Conseil Représentatif des Associations Noirs (CRAN) – the organization whose former leader Patrick Lozès is now running for the presidency of France. Lozès, who is also a former president of CAPDIV, attended part of the event and addressed the audience.

Patrick Lozès
© Discover Paris!

At the end of the event, the audience enjoyed a cocktail buffet in the Salle des Fêtes and had the opportunity to talk with all program participants. It was a festive end to a stimulating and thought-provoking commemoration!

Enjoying the Reception
© Discover Paris!

*CAPDIV operates a program entitled "Université des Mondes Noirs" (University of the Black Worlds), the mission of which is to disseminate information about the history and culture of the black world to the general public. "Hommage aux Soldats Africains des Deux Guerres" was part of this program.


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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Archie Shepp Presents Blacks in American Cinema

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Archie Shepp has participated in the Jazz à La Villette music festival for a number of years, but always as a musician. This year, in addition to performing with Napoleon Maddox in a concert called Pfat Jam, Shepp also orchestrated a film festival that features African Americans and their stories on the silver screen.

Screenshot from the Jazz à La Villette Web site

The complete list of films shown is as follows:

Jungle Fever
Stormy Weather
Gone with the Wind
Cotton Comes to Harlem
The Jazz Singer
The Black Power Mixtape 1967-75 (Avant-Premiere)

All were specifically selected by Shepp to illustrate for French audiences the evolution of the black presence in American film.

Archie Shepp studied drama at Goddard College in Vermont from 1955-1959 and sought work as an actor for some time afterward. He has written plays for theater as well – his play Junebug Graduates Tonight, described as a “jazz allegory,” was included in an anthology of plays written by blacks called Black Drama (1972; Woodie King, Jr. and Ronald Milner, authors).

Archie Shepp at MK2 Quai de Seine Cinema
© Discover Paris!

For an hour prior to the projection of Ossie Davis' Cotton Comes to Harlem on the evening of September 8th, Shepp addressed a largely French audience, explaining why he selected the films for this festival – “not necessarily because he liked them,” he said, but because he wanted to show the reality of blacks in American film during the decades that have recently passed. He told the stories of several actors, including Hattie McDaniel and Thelma “Butterfly” McQueen from Gone with the Wind, and expressed his opinion that though the blaxploitation era of American film was not advantageous to African Americans intellectually or esthetically, it did provide scores of blacks with a previously rare opportunity to work as actors, directors, and producers, as well as to produce musical scores.

Shepp distanced Melvin van Peebles’ legendary, independent film Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song from the blaxploitation films of the era. He pointed out that racism is still prevalent in the U.S. film industry.


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Thursday, September 8, 2011

Happy Birthday to the Entrée to Black Paris Blog!

Greetings everyone,

I am pleased to announce that the official launch of the Entrée to Black Paris blog took place one year ago today!

We kicked off this online adventure with a posting about Franco-Senegalese chef Rougia Dia, who presides over the kitchen at the posh, 7th-arrondissement restaurant Petrossian. We call her the new Black Pearl of Paris!

Since then, we’ve featured people, places, and events that reflect the vibrant scene that contemporary black life in Paris represents. We’ve also acknowledged historical black figures with the intent to keep their memory alive as a source of inspiration for those of us who are here and those who will follow.

Here are just a few photos to remind you of various postings:

San Francisco Jazz Man in Paris

The Spirit of Africa at Parc de la Villette

Black Women on French Television

Caribbean Rhythms and Senegalese Cuisine

Remembering Chester Himes

We are particularly pleased to bring you the Black Paris Profiles™ series and our Art and Food Pairing™ series, and hope that you are enjoying these special features of the blog.

Thanks for your support over the past year! We want to hear from you on this special day. Leave your comments beneath this posting on what you like about the blog, what you dislike about it, and what you’d like to see included in future postings.


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Thursday, September 1, 2011

Black Paris Profiles™: Yetunde Oshodi

Yetunde Oshodi and I both live in Paris, yet it is unlikely that we would have ever met if social media did not exist. We corresponded for weeks through Twitter, and then finally met face-to-face at a Tweet-up this summer. (Paris has an active Anglophone blogger and Twitter community—bloggers and tweeps often meet at cafés for a couple of hours of real live chit-chat.) It was at the summer Tweet-up that I learned that Yetunde runs an apartment-rental service and that her French husband runs a cooking school.

Born in Lagos, Nigeria, Yetunde moved to the northern suburbs of New York City at the age of six. She first visited Paris in 1995, when she says the “art de vivre that is oh, so French, called to me.” She particularly loved the cafés, which she described as being great for art, culture, food and people watching!

Yetunde Oshodi
Photo courtesy of Yetunde Oshodi


Black Paris Profiles is now available on Kindle.  Only excerpts are available on this blog.
To get your copy of Black Paris Profiles, click HERE.


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