Chechamba – Portrait of a Malawian Old Timey Musician

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I was in Malawi recently for work and I had the great pleasure to meet Wenham Chechamba in Blantyre, the country’s second-biggest city. Still going strong at 80 years old, Chechamba is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, sought-after music teacher and somewhat of a beloved national treasure.

I used scrollkit to create a little multimedia website on Chechamba, with videos, photos and interviews of the man himself. Click here or the photo and scroll away!

Syrian Refugees

downloadHave a look at a new project I was involved in (on top of my full-time job and twin baby boys, hence the lack of posts). Along with the European University Institute and French newspaper Liberation, we’ve created a single-issue news website on the situation of Syrian refugees in neighboring countries.

Interactive timelines, data visualization,  multimedia, on-the-ground reporting: lots of fun stuff! Have a look and stay tuned for my blogging on the gangs of Paris:

http://syrianrefugees.eu/

New Media for a Forgotten Massacre

The killing of up to 200 Algerian protestors in Paris by police on October 17th, 1951 has been called France’s “forgotten massacre.” Exactly fifty years later, it seems light is finally being cast on the events of that cold autumn night –with a distinctly new media flair.

At the height of the Algeria’s war of independence, thousands of Algerians gathered in Paris to protest a curfew imposed by the city’s police chief Maurice Papon (yeah, that Maurice Papon). The Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN) had called for a demonstration against what they considered a racist curfew imposed solely on the capital’s Algerian residents. Up to 30,000 peaceful protestors filled the streets. But most historians believe that Papon had planned in advance for a violent crackdown against the demonstrators. Throughout the night, over 10,000 protestors were beaten, arrested and then sent to detention centers in series of attacks throughout Paris. Anywhere from 50 to 200 protestors were beaten to death or shot dead by police.

Most horrifyingly, dozens of dead or unconscious protestors were thrown into the Seine. Bodies were found downstream, some as far as Le Havre, 100 miles away on the English Channel.

Until recently, the events have been little covered by the mainstream press and still are not included in school textbooks. In fact, many French historians and commentators claim that the government has covered up the killings. The government has yet to officially apologize and authorities still question the death toll.

This year marked a real turning point, with plenty of coverage of commemoration events in the print media and a deluge of new books. Moreover, the French talent for multimedia web production was on full display, with an impressive amount of content available online. After all, the French love the web documentaries, which they lovingly call webdocs (every self-respecting bobo is “finishing up their webdoc”). Webdocs are a perfect meeting ground for the French love of photo, video and quirky storytelling.

Here’s a quick round-up of what I’ve found online this week:

La nuit oubliée (The Forgotten Night)

A fantastic webdoc combining comics, video interviews and much more. There’s also a great interactive map of Paris. Click below for the webdoc (french only):

17.10.61

Another webdoc, with interactive map and plenty of interviews. The trailer is below and you can find the webdoc here: (also only in French)

Intro 17.10.61 from Cosmografik on Vimeo.

Owni

The youngins over at Owni are Paris’s own data visualization gods, widely worshiped in new media circles. They featured a great visualization (below) and an article with scans of official documents showing that French authorities planned out the illegal incarceration of thousands of “FMA,” or  French Muslim Algerians:


Ici on noie les Algériens (We drown Algerians here)

The French talent for documentaries has also been poorly applied to the events of October 17, 2011 – up until now, very few films have been produced about the massacre in the center of Paris. Seems this is changing as well. Here’s a trailer for one that opened in select Paris theaters yesterday:

The Godfather Comes to Montreuil?

A violent attack on a squat in the eastern suburbs of Paris last weekend has received a considerable amount of media attention for what has become an almost banal Parisian summer event: squatter evictions.

Over the weekend around twenty masked strongmen wielding iron bars and tear gas lay siege to a group of “activist” squatters in an abandoned house in the municipality of Montreuil. What the press has called an “armed raiding party” smashed the building’s entrance gate on Saturday, roughed up some inhabitants and returned two times over the weekend to wreck more havoc. According to witnesses, police showed up 30 minutes after the attack started but did nothing to stop the casseurs (hooligans). One usually reads about staged battles between casseurs and the police – this was a weird turn of events.

In a series of short statements released to indymedia, the squatter “collective” said they had occupied the house since 2007 with no outside ownership claims. Despite calling the squat La Maison qui Pue, (the House that Stinks), the collective insists that they lived in harmony with their neighbors. According to the collective, this weekend’s attackers were hired by a local real estate group called IAD that professes to have bought the house and wants to avoid a lengthy legal battle.

There was a surprising amount of mainstream buzz this week. Even the mayor of Montreuil chimed in, condemning the raid to the AFP. Local politician and teacher Bruno Saunier wrote an editorial piece on the website of news channel France 24 describing the owner’s “mafia-like methods.” The attack has received a large amount of coverage, including center-right Le Figaro, thanks to a video taken by a resident of the neighborhood:

But evictions at the numerous squats in the Eastern Paris suburb of Montreuil are an old story – squats have been sprouting up in this famously far-left neighborhood for decades, bringing in artists and anarchists alike. French law forbids evicting tenants during the winter, so the warmer months see a number of evictions, especially in Montreuil. It’s somewhat of a spring fertility rite in the area. Whole streets are blocked off for massive police operations, as screaming anarchists are dragged out of the large and often charming turn-of-the-century houses typical of Montreuil. The squatters have an impressive support network and always manage to attract local attention to their cause, while shunning the mainstream media.

This weekend’s event was different. It almost seemed that French press sniffed a whiff of the Godfather in the air. The media buzz has had an effect: According to Bruno Saunier’s personal blog, the two employees of the real estate company that ordered the attack have already been fired.

Squatters versus casseurs versus the police versus squatters. The gangs of paris never cease to amaze me.

Protest out my window #1- Pro-Gbagbo March

As French troops surround Laurent Gbagbo’s resident in Abidjan, it’s time to roll out a series I’ve wanted to do on this blog for a while: Paris’s protest marches as seen through my window, but with an angle on causes that reflect the city’s diversity.

Yesterday hundreds of pro-Gbagbo supporters marched in front of my apartment, offering a fascinating window – literally – on how diaspora communities express themselves as unrest divides their home country.

I live in the 11th arrondissement in Paris, on a side street off the largest protest/strike route in the city between Republique and Nation (see below). The 2010 retirement age protests, the 2006 “equality opportunity law” student demonstrations – I’ve seen it all from my window.

Every once in a while I’ve opened the shutters to a march that defies French protest clichés of worker unrest, disgruntled public sector employees or screaming students. I’ve seen communist Kurds, Malian immigrant workers, supporters of the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka and much more. Yesterday was new.

The large Ivorian community in Paris is divided between supporters of Gbagbo and internationally recognized president Alassane Ouattara. Support is still strong in France for strongman Gbagbo, according to the AFP. Here’s the view from my window, hastily put together (apologies for poor quality):

Demonstrations have taken place throughout Paris since the disputed November 28 presidential election but yesterday protest was all the more tense as UN and French troops lay siege to Gbagbo’s home in Abidjan. Add to this France’s complex relationship with its former colony. Until recently the Ivory Coast was feted as the jewel of West Africa, with its large French ex-pat community and booming cocoa-based economy. Things went sour in 2002, when France got involved in Ivory Coast’s civil war. Nationalist youth groups linked to Gbagbo’s regime attached French-owned businesses in 2004 and a wave of Francophobia hit the country.

I saw some of that anger yesterday. “Sarkozy/Juppé: Murderer” was the most common slogan, after “Gbagbo: President.” Protesters brandished disturbing placards of charred bodies, claiming that French attacks have already left 2300 civilians dead. I ran down to talk to a few protesters.

“You live in a country with a media controlled by its President,” one man told me two seconds after I reached the boulevard. “Of course you don’t read about the atrocities in the papers.”

Will be interesting to see how the unfolding crisis plays out in Paris… That is if this sunny weather holds out.