Bissau: fashion, flair and hip-hop

April 24, 2014

Bissau, Guinea-Bissau

By Joe Penney

If you drive through the Mistra neighborhood of Bissau – the charming, ramshackle capital of Guinea-Bissau – signs of peoples’ love for American hip-hop are everywhere.

The local football pitch is named “California” after Tupac’s song “California Love.” Clothes reading “50 Cent” or “Thug Life” are commonplace, and Rihanna’s latest hits blare out from rusty radios beneath the mango trees.

While a fondness for American hip-hop is shared throughout West Africa (Tupac is nearly everyone’s favorite rapper), Guinea-Bissau’s unique cultural influences give it its own distinctive style.

A colony of Portugal until 1974, the small, West African nation maintains strong cultural and economic links to other Portuguese-speaking countries including Angola and Brazil.

As a result, Guinea-Bissau’s fashion sense is a mix of hip-hop, flamboyant Angolan “kuduro” style, and more traditional West African outfits.

People dress boldly and creatively, favouring bright colors (including lots of neon!) which stand out against the red earth and pale, concrete walls of the capital.

Bissau-Guineans seem far less conservative than their francophone neighbors Senegal and Guinea. Here, the semi-tropical climate and Portuguese creole give the country a Latin American feel.

Earlier this month I was covering the final day of presidential campaign rallies in Bissau, and I was inspired by the general originality with which people dressed. I felt remarkably uncool by contrast.

At an event for the country’s main party, PAIGC, I met Willpack Danfa, a young rapper from Mistra district, who was attending with some of his friends.

After taking pictures at the rally, I went to Danfa’s house a few days later and shot portriats of him, his friends and family around the neighbourhood. The images in this blog all come from that day.

My subjects were initially shy but nearly everyone got into it, posing in their best outfits. I was even treated to some freestyle rap.

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