By Kevin Kriedemann and Joy Sapieka
Published March 21, 2014
In 2002, Brazzaville was considered the worst city in the world to live. In less than 12 years later, the Congolese capital is becoming known as the best-dressed, thanks to the Society of Atmosphere Setters and Elegant People(SAPEURS), especially an advert and short film for Guinness Europe in which the SAPEURS appeared went viral in early 2014.
Now, a 25-minute documentary–a vibrant glimpse into your average Congo weekend of pink suits, hip-hop and wrestling–known as SUNDAY IN BRAZZAVILLE, premieres on ‘Witness’, Al Jazeera English’s premier documentary strand on Sunday, March 23, 2014 at 22:30 GMT with repeats on March 24, 2014 at 09h30 GMT; on March 25, 2014 at 03:30 GMT; and on March 26, 2014 at 16:30 GMT.
SUNDAY IN BRAZZAVILLE 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…”
As a civil servant, Ngatsong says his low salary can’t even buy a ticket to Kinshasa. “We barely pay for food and rent.”
Despite this, Ngatsong 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 mad man that spends all his money on 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.”