Why Bandal does not have to be Paris
When other young Congolese look at the West for inspiration, four brothers started a company in their backyard in Kinshasa. Their mission? To promote a country that does not have much to the outside world. With simple t-shirt designs, they combine popular culture with their pride of Congo.
The smell from the ink hangs a bit in the air but it does not seem to bother Anicet Kanda as he sweeps it even over the fabric, laid under a homemade wooden canvas screen stretcher. The print is hidden under a layer that reminds of playful smooth mud. As it emerges, we can read the print stating: Bandal, c’est Paris.
“Bandal is Paris. We haven’t created the slogan but it’s a common expression amongst many young people here. So we thought, why not dress the slogan? Look at big artists outside Africa. French and American rappers have their own clothing line with which they express their ideas. French-Senegalese rapper Booba’s shirt with the text ‘Les aigles ne volent pas avec les pigeons’ (Eagles do not fly with pigeons) was a big hit, says 28- years old Olivier Kanda, responsible for the management marketing in the family company Anik which he runs together with his younger brothers Anicet, Gauthier and Anderson. The company name is an acronym of Anicet and Kanda, their family name.
But not all slogans work according to Olivier. “I’ve seen t-shirts reading: ‘Fuck you’ or ‘Suck my a**’. That’s not so cool. We wanted to create a brand that celebrates our language with slogans and slangs you find here. Inevitably, we started by using slogans by Congolese musicians”, he continues. Olivier studied IT-management in ISIPA, Kinshasa and takes therefor care of the brand’s strategically growth.
From Paris to Bandal
The term Bandal c’est Paris was popularized by Congolese musician JB Mpiana who, after that his scheduled concert in one of Paris’ largest venue, Le Zénith, was cancelled in 2013, instead performed in Bandalungwa, a municipality of Kinshasa. Mpiana told the audience to not despair, they would all imagine that they were in Zénith.
The famously vibrant party life of Bandalungwa, shortly known as Bandal, has often been compared to the lively and more luxurious parts of Paris but the comparison must admittedly said to be farfetched even if many Kinois (nickname for citizens of Kinshasa) desperately want to find similarities with the European metropolitan.
“We at Anik take Bandal c’est Paris a bit satirical. You don’t have to go to Europe to be proud of yourself or to take care of your surroundings. We have to change our mentality. Many young Congolese think that you must have been in Europe to achieve in life. We don’t believe in that. You can evolve here when you start your own business, something you’re good at. We want to revolt the minds of the young. There are young people here capable to do their own thing without Europe. There are creative and intelligent young people here in Congo, we mustn’t forget that.”
Spreading ideas and messages printed on T-shirt is nothing new. Printed T-shirts was a fashionable way for self-expression in the revolutionary 1960’s. Olivier thinks of fashion as a “way to show your personality. It’s a way of being and doing.”
The brothers started by first putting up some idea samples on social medias and were fast getting feedback. Their production has spread from mouth to mouth and buyers are engaged in what can be printed next. Yo nde tembe [you're the stubborn/ doubting one, said by musician Fally Ipupa] is one of the best selling prints, or now out of stock Banafanaia erreur moya ya grave [they've committed a very big mistake].
Olivier who is fluent in Tshiluba, Swahili, Lingala and French likes the concept of using different languages. “It brings a certain pride to see something printed in our languages than the usual English.”
His brother Anicet agrees with him. “A tourist who comes here and buy a t-shirt will have learnt some words in our language and bring it outside.”
Altogether they are four brothers working in the company. The two youngest, Gauthier and Anderson, are in charged of the sales. Working with families can have its toll but Olivier says that he appreciates the family bond. “There are times we argue as siblings do but we learn a lot from each other I think. We don’t let our ego stand in the way for what we want to achieve.”
He and Anicet take the chaotic half an hour ferry trip from Kinshasa to cross the river to Brazzaville, where the supplies are much cheaper. Due to frozen political between the two Congo, the brothers had to put their business on halt for a while.
“It is so frustrating,” says Anicet. He studied visual communication at l’Académie de Beaux Art in Kinshasa and works now as a graphic designer in the company. “If we had more money we could xx more the Congolese market. We suffer also from competition from those who have money but not the same agenda. “They pirate copy our design to even cheaper price. But they don’t have the same quality in the shirts or the same value as we do.”
Graffiti on fabrics
Anicet is the one deciding the design of the shirts often printed in street style, with influences from the 90s American graffiti scene.“Graffiti is from Europe and America, yes but we are open to what is happening outside. We take what we have here and modify it pour presenter un certain originality. We want to change also what we are doing here in Congo. We try to bring in new influences. Before it was even imaginable to have shirts with print in Tshiluba or Swahili. But also, when these shirts will go abroad, it will be the first time European see prints in Swahili and other languages spoken in Congo,” Anicet says.
Olivier adds that they are not copycats. “Others are also taking after what we are doing. We learn and spread from each other, that is how the world works.”
“By using same design we show that we can also do the same thing. Congolese people always think that white people are superior and that we can’t do the same. We want to show that we can do the same thing. If we can’t, it’s because we lack the sufficient material, but not because we are stupid. We want to value the Congolese culture. And there’s no brand in Congo for it. So we try to through t-shirt do it. It’s gives a pride that we can produce our own stuff.”
“I was born in Kinshasa, I grew up here. It’s a very rich city, both in culture and history. Kinshasa is like the because of Africa, the centre of it. It’s a city you can’t miss despite of certain harsh realities. There is a magic here you can’t redefine. I hope we can make more people discover it.”