The Painters of The Congo River – Part I

Mbang [m-buh n-g] died in the early 2000s.

He used to visit us at our family house in Garoua, a little desertic and colorful town of North Cameroon (Africa) where I grew up. I remember his dark skin, snowy hair. His skinny appearance -as if the Sahel winds would blow his short body away first before his straw hat. He had a bright, charming smile.

Garoua – Cameroon

My mom and him used to talk for hours about art. I remember the laughing and the jokes they shared in Lingala. After each visit, a new painting would pop on our walls. Mbang’s paintings were vivid, full of vibrant colors.

Unfortunately, he fell ill and the visits and masterpieces became rare.

Mbang died of complications from AIDS.

Poto-Poto is an old neighborhood in Brazzaville (Congo). This is where a French Mathematician and amateur painter Pierre Lods established his school in 1951: The Poto Poto school of arts.

The school encourages originality and African art and has become one of the most important artistic center in Central Africa region. Artists and nature lovers love to frequent the School because of the quality of work done there.

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Mathematics is not my cup of tea, but if it wasn’t for it I’d have never met Mbang and his amazing work.

Last week, I was working at my favorite bar’s patio surrounded by these astonishing paintings. All of sudden they reminded me of my childhood and my dear Mbang. Emotions took over me, I was paralyzed like a deer stuck in headlights.

I wrote Francis’ number down and called him the next day, inviting him for a beer. Once I met him I had one question:

“Tell me your story?”

He smiled

“It’s a long story.” He said.

“I have all the time in the world for long stories.”

“I’m from Congo Brazzaville. When I was younger, in the 60s, I was a huge comics reader.”

“ ZemblaIl Grande Blek, Akim, Rahan… I literally devoured all the comics I could.”

“Blek fought against the British because they wanted to colonize…”,

[I started laughing]

“I hope you are not British” ?!?!

“No, no, no!”

“Good…because British wanted to colonize the Americas and Blek obviously didn’t like it.”

“This is how I started to draw. I know your generation is scared of the dirt but, back in the days, we used to draw on the ground with our hands and sticks .”

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“At school, I was always sitting on the last bench so that the teacher couldn’t spot me doodling. There, I met two guys who were reproducing cinema billboards in their free time -way better than me- and one guy who hated their guts. He was also the son of a rich man.”

“Do you want to be as good as them?” He asked me. “I know you can do better, I could buy you watercolors to get you started.”

“According to me, they were really good. So on Thursdays, I went to their place to watch them paint. The next day at school, I didn’t tell it to my slanderous friend. I’m not crazy, I wanted to keep my watercolor box.”

“In high school, I was in a band. I played guitar. A local artist noticed us and offered to paint our cover. I told him that I was also an artist and I could do it by myself”

“No you can’t, come to my studio, you’ll see.” He said.

“Once there, I realized that he was right…his work was incredible. I was baffled, traumatized.”

“What you doing is childish painting, I will teach you the craft!” He added, pouring more salt on the wound.

“But I already know how to draw!”

“No, you don’t! I’ll be your teacher and you will pay me.”

“Okay then, but first I will ask my father for money”

“Francis… are you out of your mind” Daddy yelled.?!

“Painting is for white people. Africans don’t buy art. What I want you to do is to study and go to school, get your degrees.”

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“What my father didn’t know is that I visually memorized everything this artist showed me: his moves and style. How to build and stretch a canvas etc.”

“From 10th to 12th grade I was buying my school books with drawing money. I drew trains, people and villages exactly like I saw them the first time in that studio.”

“Amazing,” I replied

“Did you saw ‘the artist’ after that?”

“Hell yeah!” Francis added.

With a smirk on his face, he took a sip of his cold beer

“We became enemies…”

To be continued.

We learn a lot from strangers. I’m Lionel Thomas, creative director, artist painter, illustrator, musician, and blogger. Tell me your story!

Follow my blog, like my Facebook page. I’m also on Instagram and Twitter

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What It takes To Shoot Street Photography?

A composition is the soul of great photography. It’s the same rule for paintings.

I have to confess: drawing daily is exhausting and sometimes my eyes just need a simple walk outside. Out of my comfort zone.
I’m a shy photographer. For God’s sake, I’m not a photographer at all! I’d rather shoot landscape or butterflies playing in the grass. This is why street photography is always a tedious exercise.

This is my problem: In the streets, as hard as you try, you never go unnoticed.

But isn’t fear just an illusion? When you find your real purpose. That puts you there at this very moment. You let go of your barriers and are only driven by the love of imagery and the story you want to tell. Ask yourself: why I definitely know that I will love that photo?

I like this shot. Because it’s just Africa. The market and its strong, vibrant colors; the noisy, warm, busy streets.

For the record, I had to wait until the salad vendor walked down the street, she involuntarily balanced the shot by filling one of the six frames formed by the bare shop’s posts. Giving me a blank stare in the process.

I felt guilty.

What’d happen if she looked the other way? Like the guy in the red cap. I’d have felt better but the pic would be different.

At the end, it’s a cool composition, a photo that I’d like to paint one day because I’m sure of one thing: hot, vibrant colors are killing me every time, and I know that Africa is so colorful.

7 Places Where You’ll Find Conversations That Will Shape Your Next Story

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When there’s some good music playing at the bar, I pick up my phone, make my way through the crowd towards the speakers and I launch the almighty SHAZAM app. I wait a few seconds, my hand up in the air like I’m trying to find a network signal in a cave. The phone vibrates, then I look at the message on the screen: “We didn’t quite catch that, get your device closer to the sound and try again.”

The time for me to reach for the DJ, the song will be gone and… I’ll end up frustrated for the rest of the night. I’m sure this kind of situation already happened to you. You didn’t catch THAT sound or lost the webpage featuring articles whith interesting comments. 

Conversations are everything, they educate us, let us agree/disagree, shape us.

Here are the ideal -or not so ideal- places to find great conversations that will fuel your next story:

LinkedIn (2/10) When I started my journey here, it was fun: the “Look-I’m-On-LinkedIn-I’m-cool” vibe, the community, the articles and their comments, the golden days! Until Microsoft kicked in; now my news feed is full of stories with zero comment which only attract serial likers and self-promotion spammers.

You can be a very beautiful woman – God bless you –, and post a pic of the dress you are wearing today. Chances are you’ll break up the platform and gain thousands of followers -pick up artists- in no time.

One of my favorite movie is “Pretty Woman”. I bet you remember the scene where Vivian –Julia Roberts– gets bored watching old movies on TV, she’s then heading downstairs, looking for Edward –Richard Gere– and pushes a door in the hotel lobby, attracted by the distant sound of a piano playing. She’s looking for a good conversation! LinkedIn is the guy, who could lock that door in an alternate scene, cutting the story and its charm short. If only Vivian tried to break through that door, she’d find a jukebox playing in an empty room. That’s what a conversation group with 80k members and zero comment looks like. LinkedIN is full of those.

Do you want to post a video? You need to put it on YouTube first –if you have one– and embed its link in your post but you can only do that in your web browser. Your phone’s camera for video? Useless. Forget about it. Which makes me jump to the most interesting platforms next.

Youtube (7/10) this is the land of videos. Video are very special because they strike our emotions, pull our strings. When I watch a Youtube video, the comments section is where I waste my time. Some of them are very spot on while others make me laugh. Either way, they are very engaging.

Facebook (9/10) I ran a search in the Facebook’s ‘Groups’ app. I wanted to find people like me who like “Pretty Woman” (the movie). Figure the results I got. Use your imagination. BUT what if I just typed “movies”, or “80s movies” here we go! On Facebook, the smaller the group the better. If it’s a closed one, it’s way better. In groups the conversation is still going and it’s spontaneous. No spam, no self-advertising. If you want more details about the question you asked publicly? Just send a private message to a member and you’ll get the answer quickly. You want to start a live video? People will watch and react.

On Instagram (4/10) I use Instagram like Pinterest, it’s my huge sketch/inspiration book, it’s the place where I can express myself as an artist. Music, painting, photos anything goes. The problem with Instagram is that the comments are very short, they go from “Nice” to “Very nice” to “👍”. You guessed it: Instagram is for celebrities. Follow me now on the ‘gram @Lionthomas

Twitter (4/10) If you think that messaging is broken on LinkedIn, you haven’t seen nothing yet. I think that Twitter is for live reactions and comments only. You state your opinion and three days -a week- later –maybe- you’ll get some interactions. Everything is public. Twitter is full of spam and bots. That’s why people never answer your messages. I use It as a tool of expression. My Cavs are losing to Golden State: I want to dive in the tweets right now, feel the moment!

Snapchat (0/10) I don’t like it; Maybe I’m too old for it. I find it too cluttered. If you are not on Snapchat you are out of the loop. Please leave me a comment down below if your Snapchat conversation rate is going through the roof. I want yo learn from you.

In the streets (10/10) In Cameroon, blackouts –like the Sun- are running your existence, ‘heat & darkness under the Sun’ as I call it. Of course, you could be left totally in the dark at the bar, but who cares? You’re at the right place: your drink is in front of you! Some people can get very creative there.

As I’m writing those lines, there’s still no power in my block since yesterday. It’s not the end of the world though: in all African neighborhood, at crossroads, you’ll find at least one handmade wooden bench. When I sat down we were just two, we ended up laughing and telling stories, the ten of us, until 10 pm. It takes two and a bench for storytelling.

In conclusion, forget about cold emailing/calling, the greatest business opportunities in life are coming out of very simple things. If you are serious about professional networking, it’s time for a reboot. We are ALL busy but people do ‘repetitive’ business with their friends. Find, read comment sections of your favorite social media platform, I can guarantee you that you’ll find beautiful strangers to talk to.

A Blessing In Disguise

A pastor used to preach in a small house surrounded by skyscrapers in a city. Tired of the routine, stress and monotony, he decided to ask his congregation for a permission to go and evangelize more people in the remote regions of the country. So he went to a village and settled there.

A jungle populated by wild animals where the villages are very far from each other. When he left his home the sky was darkening. So he decided to pray to keep the rain from falling on him and his equipment, nothing’s changed. He then began to recite not one but several prayers, still nothing; the situation got even worse. He decided to kneel and pray harder and then the sky rumbled louder and a torrential rain stroke him. He got angry and full of hatred against this “God” who was deaf to his prayers.

As he fought his way through the jungle, still growling spiteful words, a man emerged from the bushes. He carried a gun. The pastor was afraid, but the stranger reassured him and said, “Pastor you are blessed.” “W-Why?” he asked. “Because jealous people in the city you came from sent me there to kill you. You are truly blessed because when I wanted to light a match and pull the trigger it started raining…I never saw a rain like this” The pastor looked closer at the gun and it was a gunpowder pistol. On these words, the stranger smiled and walked away, as if to say “Ponder this”.

If you had a bad day, things are not going your way, you’re feeling low and discouraged; may be you should get it together and take a look closer: what you’re calling “bad luck” actually is a blessing in disguise.