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Honky Tonk Time for Black Paris

 

It was a very pleasant surprise to get an email from Robin Bates about a new organization in town — La Maison de la Culture Noire Américaine. It was an invitation to a special event — a soirée at “Coretta,” a restaurant in the 17th just at the edge of the Parc Clichy-Batignolles – Martin Luther King Park (how appropriate), featuring Farris Smith on contrabass for “a casual evening of camaraderie, community and connection.”

I remembered Robin from ‘way back when’ as one of primary forces behind “Café de la Soul,” a portal for Black Paris — meaning African American Paris, of which there is a large community.

Now you’re probably wondering why a ‘honky’ like me should be interested in Black Paris.

Maybe I was Black in another life or should have been Black…or not, but one thing that always amazed me about the American community in Paris is that there have never been any boundaries between us. It never mattered if we were white, black, pink or purple — it only mattered that we were American. It’s a microcosm within a larger community that quite frankly, doesn’t exist Stateside.

Where I grew up in the deep South, we lived side by side with the Black community, but we stayed very separate. My high school friends were more ethnic than ‘Anglo-white,’ but that doesn’t mean they came home with me to socialize. It was more like different foods on the plate that don’t mix like a salad, much less a soup.

When Chicagoan Sharon Morgan first launched “Soul on Sunday” with Benny Luke and then later was proprietor of Bojangles Restaurant (2001 to 2003), I was a regular to take in the great soul food (Louisiana gumbo, fried chicken wings and more) along with the amazing jazz, R&B and gospel that played all weekend long by American musicians — until the neighbors shut it down. A ‘honky’ like me never felt out of place for a minute and the African American community in Paris became good friends.

Since then, there hasn’t been a home for this community in Paris…until now. Robin’s Café de la Soul took a break while she raised two kids, but is back with a vengeance to reinstate a Black presence in France. She calls it the “exploration of the African Diaspora in France, with a special focus on African American culture and its history, presence and influence in Paris and France.” And she’s all about ‘equal opportunity’ — so a ‘honky’ like me can feel absolutely at home. She wants everyone and everything to SHINE:

“If you are a writer, photographer, musician, artist, blogger, educator, tour operator, film maker, or general Paris/Black Paris enthusiast who would love an additional platform (a pretty SNAZZY looking platform, I  might add) to feature your work/event/project, send us an email and we’ll get the conversation started on how you can be a part of this exciting, growing online organization.”

The Saturday night event was an introduction to the “MCNA” — an informal way to reconnect with the Black American community in Paris. Immediately I recognized people I hadn’t seen in a long time. Farris Smith was banging it out on his contrabass, the cocktails and hors d’oeuvres were being passed out and even if we hadn’t known the others from before, it was very easy to connect and make new friends. London singer Afua Danso spontaneously got up and sang with Farris on fiddle and before long others were chiming in, like Lisa Anselmo of My Part Time Paris Life, another ‘honky’ like me.

Robin is seeking to build a ‘home away from home’ open to everyone — “no cliques, no grudges, no shutting people out, regardless of color, popularity, stature.” Guess that means ‘honkies’ are welcome! The MCNA is a registered nonprofit, so it’s open to your donations of space, time, sponsorships or whatever you can contribute to make this come to life for the Black Paris community.

Help Robin and the community realize its dream. It’s easy. Subscribe to the newsletter by visiting the official site at maisoncna.org/, “Like” them on Facebook and to connect on a more personal level, download the organization’s media kit or email Robin Bates at [email protected]. Be sure to tell her Honky Adrian sent you!

Special note:

Yes, “Honky” is a derogatory term for a Caucasian person with three theories for its origin.

1. the practice of white males wishing to hire African-American prostitutes in the 1920’s, and going to the appropriate part of town while honking their car horns to attract the whores.
2. the word “honky-tonk,” which was used as early as 1875 in reference to wild saloons in the Old West.
3. a variation of “hunky” and “bohunk,” derogatory terms for Hungarian, Bohemian, and Polish immigrant factory workers and hard laborers in the early 1900’s. African-Americans began to use the word in reference to all whites regardless of specific nation of origin.

Regardless, I get to use it because I am one!

A la prochaine,

Adrian Leeds
The Adrian Leeds Group

(Robin Bates, Melinda Herron, Lisa Anselmo with Adrian)

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