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Black Dragons: The Black Punk Gang Who Fought Racism & Skinheads in 1980s France

The Black Dragons created an alternative politicized space to stop the terror spread by skinheads in 1980s Paris.

In a new short series, Okayafrica contributor Aude Konan will be highlighting little known black punk communities around the world, and how they work to gain more visibility within their local punk scenes.


The first part of the series is a portrait of the Black Dragons and their fight against racist skinheads in 1980s France.

Black punk communities seldom exist in France.

Many French black punks don’t gather in groups as they don’t feel the necessity to further ostracize themselves from a punk scene that’s already not so welcoming of non-white faces. Throughout the years, though, a few black indie punks groups have emerged such as Mau Maus in the 1980s or the still active Zenzille.

One of the closest things France had to a black punk community was the Black Dragons, a group united by a will to fight back against racist skinheads and a strong sense of belonging to the Parisian suburbs.

The Black Dragons were an anti-fascist group formed in the 1980s in the northwestern Parisian suburbs. They were initially founded in the U.S. during the late ‘70s, largely influenced by the Black Panther Party.

Before the French branch was created in Paris, two black groups dominated the scene: the Del Vikings and the Black Panthers (named after the American party). These groups have been portrayed in Gilles Ellie Cohen’s photography book Vikings &Panthers.

Black Dragons. Photography by Yan Morvan.

The Del Vikings were apolitical, focused on rockabilly music, the party scenes and a love of vintage American cars from the '50s. Many Del Vikings switched from flamboyant rockabilly to punk, like the young punk Petit Jean, who allegedly got killed by skinheads during a fight in Les Halles.

Indeed, racists and xenophobic attacks soared during the 1980s due to the rise of the far right party Le Front National and prominent fascists skinheads groups like the GUD and PNFE. They would patrol specific Parisian neighborhoods, especially Les Halles, a metro station and mall, attacking passersby.

They’d also attack people at punk gigs. In 1983, the skinheads launched one of their most horrific attacks: 'la chasse aux Beurs' or 'hunting Arabs.' The attack resulted in the deaths of 23 people.

Unable to get any type of protection from the police, groups of anti-fascist vigilantes appeared, like the Ducky Boys and, later, the Red Warriors. They chased down skinhead groups armed with baseball bats, knuckle-dusters and tear gas. The rise and fall of these groups is featured in Marc Aurèle Vecchione’s documentary Antifa: chasseur de skins.

Following the 'chasse aux beur', a young man, Yves “Le Vent,” created the French branch of the Black Dragons in 1983. At its height, the Black Dragons had between 600 to 1,000 members. Contrary to the other 'antifa' groups like the Red Dragons, the Black Dragons were mostly made-up of black members.

The Black Dragons’ black and Arab French members were often working class, second generation children of migrants that came from the French banlieues. They considered themselves French, but were faced by racism in their streets and neighborhoods.

Invisible in a country that didn’t seem to acknowledge them and lacking proper representation, these young people pledged allegiance to groups like the Black Dragons, which gave them a home and a purpose.

They were aware of the inherent institutional racism at play within the French establishment, but their main concern was the daily racist attacks Black and Arab people were victims of.

Hunting skinheads was, for them, more than a petty vengeance: it was a necessity.

The autobiography J’étais un Black Dragon (I was a Black Dragon) written by Patrick Lonoh, a former Black Dragon, describes the inner workings of the movement and the solidarity inside of that community.

Easily recognizable by their bomber jackets, the patches covering them and heavy Dr. Martens boots—an uniform they openly “borrowed” from their rivals after winning fights—the Black Dragons created an alternative politicized space to stop the terror spread by skinheads. They were supported by the newly created anti-racism movement SOS Racisme.

One branch of the Black Dragons called “Miss Black Dragons” was entirely dedicated to women members, as a way to boost their members. They would only fight other all-female skinhead groups.

Music was also a component of the movement. Politically conscious French ska and punk bands like Les Beruriers Noirs, La Souris Déglinguée, and Laid Thénardier encouraged their fans to stand up against skinheads and hired 'antifa' groups to act as bouncers during their gigs.

With the explosion of hip-hop music in France in the late ‘80s and the decline of skinhead groups, more black gangs (called the zoulous) were formed, like the Mendys and Les Requins. The spread of these new groups led to a strong animosity and rivalry between them.

The Black Dragons grew a reputation of being a violent gang as they become subject to multiple controversies.

In the early ‘90s, a brutal row between them and their rival gang the Mendys lead to the death of Oumar Touré, a Mendys member.

Despite the fact that the Black Dragons punished their members for attacking women, ten of them were accused of sexually assaulting a young woman in the mid ‘90s.

Eventually, the war between gangs caused the Black Dragons to disband and disappear amidst scandals and legal issues with the justice system.

Nowadays, the members are middle-aged civilians who still maintain strong links to each other. The fights against skinheads have died down, but racism and xenophobia in France are still on the rise.

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Still from "Kasala!"

Meet The Nigerian New Wave Director Behind the Film 'Kasala!'

One of Naija cinema's new wave, Ema Edosio talks about what it took to film her exciting new film in the streets of Lagos.

Ema Edosio is the director of "Kasala", a comedy set in present day Lagos and centers on the lives of four young men who go on a joyride to a party in a Honda Accord one of them has taken from his boss Taju without permission. Their evening is ruined when one of them crashes Taju's Honda breaking the windscreen and denting the car's body. With just four hours before Taju returns home, all four boys hustle around Lagos to raise money for the car repair.

Taju, who is a struggling butcher, is faced with a big problem of his own: his debtor has just given him an ultimatum to pay back money he's long owed. Bitter and frustrated, Taju's retribution will be double-fold, if he returns home to find his Honda is damaged. The four friends do not need more another reason to expect the worse from Taju if they're not able to fix his Honda before gets home in the next four hours.

"Kasala" is a vivid portrayal of contemporary Lagos and a riotous combination of physical comedy, inventive turns of phrases combined with fluid camera work and committed performances from some of the young and bright African acting talents.

Written by Temi Sodipo and directed by Ema Edosio—who is also the cinematographer and editor—"Kasala" was chosen for the closing gala of the 2018 edition of Film Africa in London this November, out of a total of 39 films from 15 countries.

Edosio flew into London for the film's UK premier at the Rich Mix cinema to a largely pan-African crowd who lapped up the rollicking comedy. Ahead of her trip to the UK, Okay Africa spoke to Edosio about her debut feature, the joys and challenges of shooting on location in Lagos and the rise of Nigeria's so called "Naija New Wave" cinema.

Photo courtesy of Ema Edosio


The fast pace and energy in Kasala is constant all through the film. Was this a deliberate injection or did it come as a result of the writing?

I worked as a video journalist for the BBC and I would go into the streets of Lagos to film, and I would see everything that made Lagos what it is: the traffic, the smell, the dirt, the vibe, the energy, the people. And I wanted to make a story that is authentic and that is the reason why I decided to make Kasala this way.

All the four friends and main characters jell naturally it would seem. How did you get them to work well together?

When I conceived of the film, I knew that I didn't want to work with any "known" faces. I knew that I wanted unknown actors. So I put out an audition call and these boys worked into the room and I told them to read together. And immediately it was like magic.

Why do you think they're largely unknown to the majority of Nigerian movie watching audience?

I think one of the reasons is there's not a lot of movies written about young people. Most of the scripts are for a certain kind of male character: the superhero who goes to save the damsel in distress, and the hunk and a lot of roles are not written for these amazing actors and that's why they're largely unknown.

Tomiwa Tegbe who plays "Effiong" is a good comic actor and has been in "On The Real (Ebony Life TV)" and "Shuga (MTV)". What does Kasala bring out in Tomiwa Tegbe that these other directors and film material that do not?

The thing that made Tomiwa Tegbe and the rest stand out in Kasala is that I gave them freedom to act and I wasn't micromanaging them. They became very comfortable in order to do their best to the film.

The cast as a whole is largely new and young with Jide Kosoko easily the most experienced. Why did you cast him for the role and not yet another "unknown" face?

The reason is I couldn't afford to hire known faces to work in the film and I honestly didn't have the budget. I [also] wanted to bring in a sense of familiarity and that is why I got Jide Kosoko. Even though they're guys are unknown, and they're are fantastic "here is someone you know who is in this movie playing with these amazing actors" which is why I worked with Jide Kosoko.

The different locations in the film are those of back corners, mechanic garages, meat market, communal flats most of which have the red and brown of rust and decay gives the cinematography a visual harmony. How much attention did you give to finding the right locations?

I think I made Kasala with a vengeance. I've had the privilege to work with Ebonylife tv which was beautiful but Kasala kept pulling me in: the people I met in the streets, the things I'd done on the streets of Lagos, the visual aesthetic kept pulling and I decided to make that. I wanted to see Lagos, I wanted to see barbwires. I wanted to see gutters, I wanted to see the people. I knew that the location was a character on its own. And I wanted to be able to find the right location that would be able to represent that boys and the lives they live in Lagos. I'm forever grateful for the people there who let us film there.

Your camera adopts the often frenetic pace of the film and is rarely still for long. Why this visual approach?

I'm very influenced by Guy Ritchie, Edgar Wright, Spike Lee and Martin Scorsese. And I would always say to myself that "these characters in their films can be Nigerians". I think that the camera should be fluid, breathe, move with the audience showing us "oh yeah this is a wide, oh yeah this is a close up". My influence by these directors was what I put into Kasala. And this is what made the film dynamic.

Are there any interesting, unplanned events during shooting which you could share with our readers?

Shooting in Lagos is one of the hardest thing to do. You have these agberos [louts] who come to you and literally want to take your equipment. I went with a very small crew and I'm very petite and they would see me and say "who is this small girl? She doesn't have money. Leave her alone, let her shoot". I started bringing them into the film to act and it was very beautiful seeing them react to it. One of the most interesting things is the children in the estates [on location] who act in the film, the joy and the playfulness. In some ways we brought back some joy and some fun into the neighbourhood.


Still from "Kasala!"

Did you worry much about what may be lost to foreign audiences who may not be clued up the pidgin English and "Nigerianisms" used in the film?

You can't come to Lagos and make a film about the slum in English. I felt like the pidgin English was as important as the location. My mind was not about where the foreign audience would accept it or whatever. My mind was "how do I make a film that is authentic to Nigeria? How do I make a film that would show of Lagos?" It would do no justice to use English.

Who are the other key players in Nigeria's "nu wave" film and tv you would like to highlight?

When you talk about new wave key players you're talking about Abba Makama whose film "Green White Green" inspired me to make "Kasala". CJ SeriObasi, ImoEmoren, Jade Sholat Siberi, Kemi Adetiba. So many new directors are springing out nollywood. And they're new directors making amazing stuff. I'm really really excited about the future.

How did you raise the funding needed to make "Kasala"?

When I wanted to make Kasala, it was not the kind of story people would fund. I decided in order to bring this story to live, to use the skills I'd gained over the years—to produce, direct, shoot and edit. Not because I wanted to be in control, because I didn't have the budget. That is the sport of new director coming in now. We're fighting against all odds and it is now beginning to be clear that it's way beyond nollywood. Kasala has been to over 20 international festivals and counting. And there an audience for our films, there's an audience for our voices.

What are you expectations for it at the festival?

I really don't know what to expect. I just hope that they love the film. For the Nigerians in the diaspora,I hope that it brings back memories of Lagos. For black people I hope it gives them a sense of how we are back home to help them connect with us as Africans. For the foreign audience I hope that they see a Nigeria of passion, of community, of tenacity, of brotherhood of love.

"Kasala" will be released worldwide on December 7th

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Indomie: Unpacking a Nigerian Tradition

What does Nigeria's way of preparing this beloved brand of instant noodles say about the country as a whole?

Before I came to Lagos in September to begin a collaborative performance project, I imagined all the ways the place would challenge all I had read and heard about it, and all the ways it might remind me of my home, Trinidad and Tobago. Of all the kernels of similarities I've encountered so far, Indomie is perhaps the most intriguing.

Indomie, a brand of instant noodles originating in Indonesia, has become the household name for all instant ramen noodles in Nigeria.

As a child, I would make Top Ramen, but ours was far less intentionally adorned. I had never seen anyone add anything but Golden Ray. I would try to be fancy with my own and add eggs, but they never quite attained Naruto ramen standards.

Indomie was my first meal in Nigeria. I had arrived in Lagos about two hours earlier. In those two hours I had seen something of the character of the city. In the midst of the clouds of dust and engine exhaust fumes I saw a woman almost fall out the car she was getting into, I saw men sitting atop a truck, like wrinkles in the night sky fabric, I saw selling, so much selling and buying and haggling. It seemed to me that everything was happening here.

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Fela Kuti's 'Zombie' Is Coming Out On Limited Edition 8-Track

"Zombie" and "Mr. Follow Follow" are available in the nostalgic 8-track cartridge.

"Zombie," Fela Kuti's 1976 protest anthem and scathing attack on the Nigerian military, is getting an 8-track re-release.

Knitting Factory Records, Kalakuta Sunrise and Partisan Records have made 300 limited editions copies of Zombie/Mr. Follow Follow which you can pre-order now ahead of its December 7 release.

Fela Kuti's classic song uses zombies as a metaphor for soldiers mindlessly following orders. The song is thought to have triggered the Nigerian government's horrific assault on the Kalakuta Republic, in which the compound burned to the ground, Fela was brutally beaten and his mother, Nigerian feminist icon Funmilayo Ransome Kuti, was murdered.

You can pre-order Zombie/Mister Follow Follow on 8-track now and read more about each song from Mabinuori Kayode Idowu's text accompanying the release below.

Purchase Fela Kuti's Zombie/Mr Follow Follow on 8-Track

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