Thursday, December 29, 2011

Art and Food Pairing™: Sunugal

Entrée to Black Paris’ Art and Food Pairing™ articles generally feature a museum or gallery showing Afro-centric works, followed by a review of a nearby Afro-centric restaurant. Today, for the first time, we present art and food found in the same establishment – a Senegalese restaurant called Sunugal. In December 2011, this restaurant won the coveted Marmite d’Or award sponsored by the City of Paris.

Sunugal – Night view of façade
© Discover Paris!

Sunugal – Front dining room
© Discover Paris!

Owner Alpha Diallo is proud of the restaurant’s zinc bar, a holdover from the days when an old-time bistrot occupied the locale. The bar stands at the entrance of the principal dining room, which is dimly lit and has tall windows that stretch fully across its width. Although long, the room is rather narrow, and there is just enough space for a person to move between the rows of tables.

Alpha Diallo – owner of Sunugal Restaurant
© Discover Paris!

Several mixed-media paintings by artist Laurence Galand hang on maize-colored walls.

Mixed media art by Laurence Galand
© Discover Paris!

A French artist-in-residence at Seine-et-Marne, Galand creates paintings and sculptures from reclaimed materials at beaches and on city streets. She says that her art will hang at Sunugal as long as Mr. Diallo wishes, so it is likely that you will find at least one or two of her works there at any time.

A single portrait by Cameroonian photographer Mario Epanya remains on display from a previous exposition:
Photo portrait by Mario Epanya
© Discover Paris!

With a background in fashion as a makeup and hair artist, Epanya publishes a bimonthly beauty magazine called Winkler.

When Tom and I entered the restaurant, Mr. Diallo greeted us and personally ushered us to our table. Having noticed that I was slightly stuffy, he recommended that I try a Punch gingembre as a bracer against my cold. He said that he uses ginger himself for throat ailments, and brought me a heated concoction of hot water, ginger juice, rum, and lime. It was delicious and I did not refuse when our waitress offered to refill my glass later in the meal! Tom ordered Punch coco, a rum drink served with ice and coconut milk in a tall glass. We both munched on green olives in a spicy mustard sauce and peanuts as we perused the menu.

Punch gingembre
© Discover Paris!

As a starter, we decided to split a plate containing four Pastels – Senegalese fritters stuffed with a dark-meat fish. Though I don’t care for fish, I found the fritters to be quite good. Light and slightly crunchy, they were served with a spicy onion sauce for dipping.

Tom was eager to try the restaurant’s award-winning Thieboudienne. (Sunugal won the Marmite d’Or for its preparation of this classic dish.) He was served a thick cut of fish smothered in flavorsome gravy with a large mound of rice and big morsels of cabbage, manioc, carrot, eggplant, and turnip, and a single, whole okra pod on the side. He found the dish to be very appetizing: the fish was firm, yet it yielded to the pressure of a fork; the carrot, manioc, and turnip were cooked firm to the bite; and the eggplant, okra, and cabbage retained their savory flavors.

© Discover Paris!

For my main course, I selected Thiébou Yapp – two sizable morsels of stewed lamb shoulder covered with an onion and olive sauce. The meat was tender and flavorful. A huge mound of short-grain rice cooked in dark gravy accompanied the dish.

During the meal, Mr. Diallo brought over a small dish of fond de marmite—crispy grains of rice that are found at the bottom of the stew pot. When sprinkled on the food, these savory grains provided a delicious, crunchy counterpoint to the meal.

As a beverage accompaniment, Tom ordered Gazelle, a slightly-bitter, blond beer from Senegal served in 63cl bottles. Still fighting my impending cold, I ordered another Punch gingembre.

For dessert, Mr. Diallo recommended a dish that was not on the menu. Called Thiacry, it is a homemade sweet pudding made with millet, crème fraîche, and yogurt. Tom ordered it and declared it to be rich and sweet and sour at the same time. He said that it was a refreshing dessert.

I ordered Beignets sénégalais, three balls of slightly sweet, somewhat chewy, fried dough flavored with spices and served with crème chantilly. I have never seen such a dessert in other Senegalese restaurants, so I decided to give it a try. While flavorful, the level of sweetness was less than what I anticipated, particularly in comparison to the sweet mint tea that we were served afterward. This beverage could have served as dessert on its own!

While we dined, African music played over the sound system until a local singer, Moussa Kanouté, arrived to sing and play his kora, an African harp. We were able to meet him and shake his hand during one of his breaks.

Moussa Kanouté
© Discover Paris!

We returned to Sunugal several days after this first dining experience and sat at the zinc bar. We struck up a conversation with a man there, who we learned is a regular at the restaurant. When the subject of the specialties of the house came up, he stated that he considered “conviviality” to be topmost at the restaurant. Indeed, we had a lively, enjoyable chat with him and the servers behind the bar as we watched the restaurant fill with customers. I ordered bissap juice and was intrigued by the unique, refreshing taste of this beverage – different than any other I have tasted before! I learned that Diallo adds orange water, a bit of pineapple juice, and a little sugar to his hibiscus infusion. The next time we visit the restaurant, I’ll be ordering an entire pitcher!

As renovations are scheduled for Sunugal, we anticipate that it will look quite different when we return. We think, though, that the food, drink, and hospitality will remain as excellent as we have found it!

3, rue Crespin de Gast
75011 Paris
Metro: Menilmontant (Line 2)

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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Art and Food Pairing™: Le Livre à Venir and Le Barracão

Le Livre à Venir is a bookstore located in the heart of the Oberkampf district of Paris’ 11th arrondissement. Specializing in old and rare books, it also boasts an impressive collection of African masks and statues. Some of these are placed prominently in the window at the front of the store, alerting passersby to the fact that this is not “just another bookstore.” Many more pieces are on display along both aisles and at the rear of the store.

African statuary at Le Livre à Venir
© Discover Paris!

The shop is the manifestation of owner Jean-Jacques Pankeshon’s passion for books and for African art. Pankeshon fell in love with African art at the tender age of 16, when he bought his first piece at a brocante (secondhand market) in Paris. He has been collecting ever since. The items that he displays at his bookstore represent only about a third of what he owns. He does not stock paintings because of lack of space, but he has steadily expanded the number of masks and sculptures that he displays over the years. He sells originals and copies of these works, which he sells at prices ranging from 100€ to 1000€. (He defines copies as items that have never been used for their ritualistic purposes and says that his original pieces are generally less than a century old.)

In his tiny office at the back of the store, Pankeshon has an impressive personal library of books on African art, including editions on the Dogon, Fang, and Songye traditions. Interestingly, he does not sell books on African art to the general public. The books that he does offer feature topics such as psychology, religion, and social sciences. There are even a few English-language publications for the rare Anglophone who wanders in looking for reading material.

Jean-Jacques Pankeshon
© Discover Paris!

Le Livre à Venir has been in the same location on rue Oberkampf for ten years. The boutique is only open in the afternoons – Pankeshon reserves his mornings for scouting the markets for new art to purchase and for other activities.

Just a couple of blocks up the street from Le Livre à Venir, Le Barracão serves up Brazilian cuisine. My husband Tom and I dined at this long, narrow restaurant on a Friday evening and were warmly greeted and seated by a young man who would also be our server. He took us to the back room of the dimly lit establishment so that we would not be disturbed by the merriment of a group that occupied the middle dining room. A video of a Brazilian music concert was projected on the rear wall, where a large Brazilian flag was displayed.

Le Barracão
© Discover Paris!

We ordered caipirinhas (the classic Brazilian cocktail made from cachaça, lime juice, and sugar) and sipped them as we perused the menu. I decided ahead of time that I would not order dessert because I knew that an entrée (first course) and a main dish would be too copious to allow me to enjoy a third course. Even then, Tom and I decided to split one entrée – Coxinha de Galinha – to be sure that we could finish our main courses.

Coxinha de Galinha is basically deep-fried chicken dumplings. But what tender, delicate, flavorful dumplings! The breaded crust forms a tear-shaped morsel that encases shredded chicken seasoned with parsley, coriander, and green onion. A small green salad, a mayonnaise-based condiment, and a wedge of tomato and lemon were served alongside.

Coxinha de Galinha
© Discover Paris!

For the main dish, I chose the traditional national stew called feijoada because it had been highly recommended by a colleague. I was not disappointed to receive a copious serving of black beans, morsels of sausage, and generous slices of what I believe was pork shoulder. A large mound of rice, a slice of orange, and a tomato wedge were served with the dish, while a ramekin of manioc flour and a small pot of Brazilian pepper sauce were placed on either side of my plate. There was no trace of fat in the dish. The beans and meat were perfectly cooked and the rice was the perfect accompaniment. I added a touch of pepper sauce to a couple of mouthfuls of food, but found that it was not at all necessary as flavoring – the stew was perfect on its own.

Tom chose Xinxim de Galinha as his main dish. This is a traditional Bahian recipe composed of three large pieces of chicken (dark meat) cooked in peanut sauce flavored with coconut milk and tiny shrimp. Green peppers, tomato, and green peas were served. The obligatory mound of rice also accompanied this dish. Tom cleaned his plate, endeavoring to consume every drop of the delicious sauce!

We both decided to forego having wine with our meals, ordering another round of caipirinhas and a carafe of tap water instead.

For dessert, Tom chose the Antistress du chocolat et coco, a chocolate cake flavored with coconut. He was not satisfied with this dessert, saying that it was bland and that it lacked sweetness.

Overall, we were quite satisfied with our meal. We paid only 65€ for everything, including the drinks, which made us happy as well.

Le Livre à Venir
88, rue Oberkampf
75011 Paris
Telephone: /
Hours: Tuesday through Saturday – 1 PM to 8 PM; Sunday and Monday – 2 PM to 8 PM

Le Barracão
108, rue Oberkampf
75011 Paris
Hours: Tuesday through Sunday 5 PM until 2 AM. Closed Mondays.


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Thursday, December 15, 2011

France's African Face in Bobigny

Bobigny's Marianne
© Discover Paris!

The town of Bobigny, which borders Paris to the northeast, is the préfecture (capital) of the department Seine-Saint-Denis. According to Jean-Jacques Brilland, director of the Bobigny tourist office, the identity of the city is based on three concepts:

Ville Monde – A city of the world, Bobigny is proud of its diverse population (over 100 ethnicities at present).

Ville Coeur – Bobigny, the heart of Seine-Saint-Denis, is a city of social solidarity.

Ville par Tous, pour Tous – A city by everyone, for everyone, Bobigny calls upon its citizens to speak up and be heard, always keeping the common good in mind.

The ultimate expression of this inclusiveness can be found in the Salle des Mariages (marriage hall) at the Hôtel de Ville (City Hall). Entirely decorated by artist Hervé Di Rosa, founder of the art modeste movement, it is a testimony to the principle of direct democracy – the decisions regarding the reconstruction and decoration of the room were made after direct consultation with the citizens of the city. The elements that make up the room bear witness to the incredible diversity that has defined Bobigny since the 19th century.

Salle des Mariages at Bobigny
© Discover Paris!

The hearts that lovers carve on trees inspired Di Rosa to design the heart-shaped seats for the room. He created special chairs for the bride and groom, complete with men’s and women’s shoes for the legs. The backs are decorated with smiling faces. The top of the bride’s chair is crowned with a wire heart, representing the French expression coup de coeur, and the groom’s chair is topped by lightning bolts, representing the French expression coup de foudre. Both translate into English as “lovestruck.”

A second pair of these chairs is available to accommodate celebrations for same-sex couples. The chairs were created in Miami, where the artist had a studio for a period of time.

The most remarkable work in the room is Di Rosa’s sculpture of La Marianne, an emblem of France that has been used to represent the spirit of the Republic since the late 18th century. Although she has traditionally been depicted as a white woman, Di Rosa chose to represent Marianne as an African figure. Indeed, he engaged masters of the lost wax-casting technique in the town of Foumban, Cameroon to create the sculpture.

Bobigny's Marianne has the breasts and protruding belly (representing prosperity and generosity) that are characteristic of African statuary of women. She has Negroid facial features and Di Rosa's signature touch of two sets of eyes – one that gazes down upon the happy couple at the moment of their marriage, the other off into the distance, symbolizing eternity – the ideal length of the couple’s union. Marianne does wear the traditional Phrygien bonnet, which in this case represents the freedom of French-owned slaves at the time of the Revolution.

Marianne de Foumban
© Discover Paris!

The sculpture is nestled in a niche that is painted white and intentionally located between a long blue wall to the left and a long red wall to the right. Together, the colors represent Le Tricolore (the French flag). When the bride and groom stand up to take their vows, they stand before the mayor's table (heart-shaped; designed by Di Rosa), the flag, and Marianne.

Why an African Marianne? Di Rosa responds to this question as follows:

It is not written anywhere that Marianne is blond with blue eyes! For me, Marianne is love, the world, the Republic - so why not an African?

Di Rosa also acknowledged the pervasion of American-style hip-hop graffiti in Bobigny by installing several floor-to-ceiling panels decorated in this art form. One panel displays the Chinese hieroglyphic that represents love and another bears the word boboche, a term of affection for the city. These works created by four artists, three of whom are local residents.

Graffiti in the Salle des Mariages
© Discover Paris!

At the end of the marriage ceremony, the bride and groom select one of six original, signed and numbered serigraphs to take home as a memento of their union. (Two of them are shown below.) The artists who contributed these works are Hervé Di Rosa (France), François Boisrond (France), Rachid Koraichi (Algeria), Ricardo Mosner (Argentina), William Wilson (France/Togo-Benin) et Maître Akeji (Japan).

(2006) William Wilson
© Discover Paris!

(2006) Ricardo Mosner
© Discover Paris!

The Salle des Mariages was inaugurated on May 12, 2006.


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Thursday, December 8, 2011

In memorium: Manda Djinn (1937-2011)

Manda Djinn
Photo courtesy of Raphaël Loisin

Manda Djinn left this world on November 26, 2011 after a long battle with cancer. She was an inspiration to me, not only because of her incredible talent, but also because of the zest with which she approached life. I had the pleasure and privilege of interviewing her twice for articles that I wrote, one of which is a Black Paris Profile™. I also had the pleasure of working with her through Discover Paris! – she was our flea market tour guide. It was pure joy to be in her presence.


Manda performed at the Duc des Lombards jazz club in Paris' 1st arrondissement in June 2010. See the video below.


I wrote my first article about Manda in 2006. It was published on the Bonjour Paris Web site. We didn't know each other well then, and I referred to her by her last name in the piece. Please find it below.

The legacy of African-American performers in Paris is legendary. Since the introduction of jazz to France during World War I, singers, dancers and musicians have made their way to the City of Light to establish or enhance their careers. Some even achieved international acclaim . And increasingly, gospel singers are taking their place alongside jazz and blues artists and enjoying success in introducing yet another form of black music to the French.

Brooklyn’s Manda Djinn (Manda Jean Loison) is one of these performers. She first went to Paris in 1984, where she sang jazz in popular Left Bank clubs such as Aux Trois Mailletz and Le Bilbouquet. But in addition to her jazz concerts, Djinn also performs gospel and Negro spirituals.

Manda Djinn
Photo courtesy of Manda Djinn

Djinn began her career as a dancer, performing tap in Long Island clubs and opening for the likes of Bo Diddley and Sonny Till as early as the age of eleven. She developed an act involving Latin, Calypso and African rhythms and danced to this music until the 1960s, when an injury ended this phase of her career. She then began singing the music to which she once danced, performing in Hartford, Connecticut and other cities along the east coast.

She was discovered by Thelonious Monk’s manager while performing with Mongo Santamaria’s Latin jazz group, and then began her career as a jazz singer. She played at many of the same clubs as Monk, again on the east coast.

Jazz took Djinn to Singapore in 1984. She performed at the Bistro Toulouse Lautrec for four months there, and then set out for Europe. She stopped briefly in London to check out the music scene before moving to Paris. When she arrived, she discovered that she had left her music behind, and had to develop a new jazz act.

In 1987, Djinn was chosen to headline at the Folies Bergère in Paris (the same theater in which Josephine Baker wore her famous banana skirt for the first time). She replaced black singer/actress Bertice Reading in the show and left the jazz circuit during this performance run, which lasted almost two years. Her stage name prior to the show at the Folies was Jean Bonnard, but the management of the theater objected to this name because French audiences could mistake it for a French man’s name (“Jean” is the French name for “John”). Djinn’s husband, Raphaël Loison, encouraged her to change her stage name to Manda Djinn – using her given first name and changing the spelling of her middle name Jean to “Djinn”, so that her fans could say it properly.

Djinn began performing gospel music and Negro spirituals in 1989. Having been invited to perform at a sacred music festival in the cathedral at Lescar, France, she developed yet another act for the occasion. She then took this music on the road, performing it at church concerts while she concurrently performed jazz at festivals and clubs.

Singing “classical” gospel, Negro spirituals and her own gospel compositions throughout France, Djinn is ever mindful of the fact that this musical genre is relatively new to the French. Because her fans often have little concept of the origins of the music or the meaning of the lyrics, she explains why Negro spirituals and gospel music developed, and gives a brief summary in French of the lyrics of each song prior to singing it in English. She wants her audiences to understand that the music is spiritual, and that she is praising God at the same time that she is entertaining them.

Gospel music has rapidly gained popularity in France, and particularly in Paris, since 1991-92. It is performed in venues as varied as open air festivals, nightclubs/restaurants and churches. There are many non-American groups performing the music, both in French and in English. Djinn is not certain how much non-Anglophones who perform gospel in English actually comprehend its true meaning. For the past three years, she has conducted a gospel workshop in the town of Nanteau-sur-Lunain in an attempt to convey this meaning to future performers.

Djinn continues to perform jazz music in France, but says that gospel has the advantage of being sung in church, “surrounded by beauty and spirituality in an atmosphere charged with emotion”. She finds it bizarre that gospel is often performed in clubs in Paris. She recently gave a moving performance at the Saint-Germain-des-Prés church in where roughly 200 people assembled to hear her lift her golden voice to the heavens.

Saint Germain des Prés Church
© Discover Paris!

Not content to exercise her creative talents solely by composing and singing, Djinn has ventured into the world of writing. She has written a novel, an autobiography and several plays. Though her novel and autobiography are unpublished as yet, her plays have been read at literary salons in Paris. Her latest play, entitled Gospel Truth, incorporates her love for gospel music with her enthusiasm as a playwright. It was performed at the Espace Pierre Cardin in Paris in December 2002.

Djinn loves her life in Paris. Her favorite pastime is exploring the flea markets, particularly the one at Saint-Ouen (Porte de Clignancourt). She collects toy soldiers, dolls, fabrics and “how-to” books, “the stuff that dreams are made of,” she says. But though her life is full and her creativity is constantly being fed and exercised in Paris, Djinn says that she still loves New York and always yearns to return there. She loves to wander the streets of the city and enjoys chance conversations with people at the bus stop. And she still has family and friends there.

Thus, Djinn’s life might be considered a tale of two cities. It is good on both sides of the Atlantic.

I'll miss you, Manda!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Black Paris Profiles™: Richard Allen

Richard Allen is one of the “old school” African-American expatriates living in Paris today. Businessman and singer, photographer and filmmaker, the breadth and depth of his experiences in the City of Light are impossible to chronicle in a mere blog posting! His activities in all of these arenas are the source of his unique outlook on life in Paris.


Richard Allen
© Discover Paris!

Richard Allen always liked French. Though he grew up listening to Hispanic Spanish, he was not really attracted to this language. But when he heard his grade school classmate, Gabriel Racine, speak French, he decided that he wanted to learn it. True to his passion, he went on to earn a B.A. in French and Economics at Morehouse College and moved to France to learn more after completing his military service in Belgium. He arrived in Paris on 11 June 1972, enrolled at the Sorbonne, and studied for two years there.


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