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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