Jean Depara - Le Billisme
Op het einde van de jaren 1950 ontstond er in Leopoldstad, of Lipopo zoals de stad toen liefkozend genoemd werd door haar inwoners, een hele jongeren-sulcultuur, het billisme, die haar oorsprong had in westerns. Die waren toen voor het eerst te zien op het witte doek van kleine bioscopen in de zwarte wijken van wat toen nog een gesegregeerde stad was. Met name de figuur van Buffalo Bill werd een echt rolmodel voor de jongeren van toen, ook als modegoeroe: in de straten van de cités flaneerden jongemannen in jeans en met halsdoek en soms ook lasso.
Filip De Boeck & Césarine Bolya
bron: Beyond Desire
Kbokiolo (Angola) 1928 – Kinshasa (D.R.Congo) 1997
Shoemaker until 1953, Depara begins in 1950 to photography, the year of his marriage in Matadi. To record the event, he buys a small Adox camera. Back in Kinshasa in 1951, Depara attempts to reconcile photography and various odd jobs (repairer of bicycles, cameras, scrap …). Then in 1953 he set up his studio “Jean Whisky Depara” in Kato on No. 54.
Inter-ethnic metropolis since the years 1920-30, Leopoldville, as Brazzaville on the other side, is a bustling capital where you heard day and night Polka, Maringa, Tango, and of course Rumba. The music brings together the entire population of the city, Ghanaian, Senegalese, Congolese, coastmen, African, European… Music is the cultural link around which the populations of the city have joined forces, finding both melodies and ancient rhythms, and modern ones created by their idols or imported from Europe and the Americas. Grouped into associations, youths of Kinsahsa gather in companies each with a gang leader, a style of dress, their female muses, a place where to meet (usually one of the countless bars, dance halls, the ‘Siluvangi’, ‘Amouzou’, ‘Congo Bar’, ‘Air France’, ‘Quist’, ‘Ok Bar’, ‘Chez Macauley’…) and music band (the most important are “OK Jazz” with Franco and the “African Jazz” with Joseph Kabasele, singers and musicians are perfectly trained in church choirs). The boom of the music was amplified by the many labels installed on site (as ‘Olympia’ created in 1940, ‘Ngoma’ en 1947, ‘Loningisa’, ‘Opika’, ‘Essengo’…). They have facilitated the use of new instruments like electric guitar and sax, the diffusion of tubes (with radio) across Africa and Europe, organizing concerts and remuneration of the authors.
Depara is part of these fun-loving youths, dancing, flirting. By day, while continuing photography studio until 1956, he attended in the city Nganda (bars) as ‘Kwist’ held by a West-African, ‘Ok Bar’, on Itaga, ‘Sarma Congo’. He also enjoys photographing bodybuilders (great seducers very popular) that he finds the afternoon at the sports complex FUNA, a place of entertainment for all, Blacks and Whites. At night, alone with his flash camera slung over his shoulder, “like a bow” he said, he toured the fashionable nightclubs : the ‘Afro Mogenbo’, the ‘Champs-Elysées’, the ‘Djambo-Djambu’, the ‘Oui’,the ‘Fifi’, the ‘Show Bot’. In 1955, the ‘Kongo Bar’ was the most ‘in’ spot on Tshoapa street after Itaga, (now a church) along the ‘Opika’ (intersection Kabambaré-Bokassa) and the ‘Bingabar’ on Moero lake (Barumbu neighbourhood). Each dancing had its resident orchestra and its regulars boys and girls. The atmosphere was crazy, suitable for all encounters. And the business of photography was easy for Depara. Noticed in 1954 by Franco, the maestro of the Zairean rumba, he became his official photographer (Depara was only 26) and invited him to all his musical evenings (including in Mokalia) until the singer’s death in 1989. The atmosphere is crazy, as selling photography easy.
While keeping up his night work, he tooks photograph the day in his studio until 1956. From 1975 to 1989, in his fifties, he become the official photographer attached to the Parliament. In 1989 he retires to devote himself to fishing and building pirogues.
Depara died in 1997 in Kinshasa at the age of 69 years, leaving more than 5000 pictures of a boosted and carefree time when Kinshasa was the vibrant and crazy heart of all over Africa. “Kin-the-joy, Kin-the-madness” as says the novelist Achilles Ngoye.
The photograph of Depara, always perfect framing and knowing transcribe the crazy atmosphere of the youth of Kin, not bother with any prejudice about actors of its nights, nor of taboo, or surprising love for a night, there a beautiful provocative neckline, or even after the escapade of a band in search of adventure. Because Depara is not only a photographer but also a young man who lives moments of his photo. And we relive those moments. The great Depara photographs the great Kinshasa in years 1951-75.