Tag Archive | "Ntshepeng Motema"

West African Hair Braiders in Harlem bring back the craze of the Twist and Box Braids

(AP Photo/George Widman)

by Ntshepeng Motema, Malian Beat Reporter

As the Autumn sun poured through the windows of a hair salon in Central Harlem, small clusters of hair braiders stood over customers and pulled their hair in all  directions. All this energy and pain was in the service of creating one of the latest African hair braiding styles, such as the Twist and the Box Braid.  This was the scene at African Hair Braiding Salon on 126th Street and Morningside Avenue on a recent Saturday. The two styles were once popular in the late 1980s and early 1990s but were considered out of touch just a few years ago. The craze of Box Braids and The Twist has returned, more popular than before and has now being perfected at the Malian-owned salon.

The establishment was small, but every inch was used. Mirrors lined both walls, three pillars provided some semblance of structure and knots of hair carpeted the floor. On that recent day, around 15 customers were being braided, tended by at least two hair stylists, keeping up a steady flow of chatter in French, the main language of Mali, and calling out numbers to each other. “These numbers represent the color of the hair piece that people choose, one is black, four is brown and 30 is ginger,” Fidelle Koyta, one of the braiders explained. Koyta’s own braids combine burgundy, black and gold color. Her client, a Harlem resident named Jacqueline, wanted the same style, a process that could take most of the working day. But Koyta does not work alone, with two more women they gathered over Jacqueline’s head and furiously twisted.  “If I work on my own it takes maybe six hours,” said Koyta. “We help each other, so that we cut the time down, if you help others, they will also help you when you have a lot of clients.”

Jacqueline has been getting her hair braided here since last year. She said she preferred being braided by West Africans. “I went to a Jamaican lady one time but it didn’t come out the same so I prefer the African braiders,” Jacqueline said. The women from West Africa are practicing a craft thought to date back more than 5,500 years in ancient Egypt. “Years later each region of Africa had its own traditional styles,” said Carolyn Brown, a Nigerian Historian at Rutgers The State University of New Jersey. “In the 1990s, women began wearing box braids, and famous singers and actresses like Janet Jackson made them popular,” she said.  “Styles have come and gone but braids keep coming back and seem to be the popular alternative to other hairstyles that require higher maintenance,” Brown added.

The styles have now been developed further to make them attractive in modern day. “We have added the use of different colors, we combine two or three colors at a time now,” said Koyta, 26. The two styles use synthetic hair rather than natural hair. Box Braids are braided with four pieces of hair instead of three. The Twist uses two pieces and both strands of hair are twisted in the same direction and cross over in the opposite direction. The styles can last up to three months when they are properly maintained and cost about $140 for short ones and $160 for long ones. “We make under $5,000 in profit every month,” Ma Doussou, also from Mali and one of the three managers said.

But staying ahead in the trade has become difficult. The Hair braiding market is intensely competitive in Harlem. Names such as Maliba African Hair Braiding, Mali African Hair Braiding and African Family Hair Braiding could be all over the neighborhood. In all these places the Twist and the Box Braid were the most requested braiding patterns. Every one of the salons had posters with pictures of different styles outside their stores. They all claim to offer the best braids in town thus making the fight for clients that much harder.

But back at 126th the women have a simple business model, but it works. They take turns  sitting outside in the street, spotting and then charming potential customers. Inside Koyta who has been working at the beauty place for about two years had just finished braiding her client’s hair. It took her two and a half hours and on that busy day she could barely stretch her fingers, already another customer had been pulled off the streets and she had to attend to her.





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Ethnic America Goes to the Polls

Reporters from the New York Torch visited polling places in the New York City and Jersey City area to ask first-time voters from ethnic communities about their experiences, opinions and hopes for America.

Click on the pictures to know their stories.

Reporting by Mea Ashley, Yvonne Bang, Magdalene Castro, William Denselow, Shaukat Hamdani, Colleen McKown, Michael Orr, MaryAlice Parks, Nia Phillips, Griselda Ramirez, Rebecca Sanchez and Charlotte Stafford.
Edited by Jay Devineni, Lorelai Germain, Stephen Jiwanmall, Ntshepeng Motema and Christina Thorne.
Complied by Dhiya Kuriakose.

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[VIDEO] Africans in Central Harlem support Obama

Popular polls are showing that the race to the White House will go down the wire. For New York’s African population the support is more one-sided. Africans living in central Harlem are making it clear who has their support. Ntshepeng Motema has the story.

Edited and produced by Shaukat Hamdani


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Slideshow: Africans Celebrate Heritage with Harlem Parade, Festival

Photographers: Jay Devineni (Senegalese Beat Reporter) and Ntshepeng Motema (Malian Beat Reporter)

People from all over Africa and the African diaspora participated in the Sixth Annual African Day Parade and Festival on Sept. 23, 2012 in Harlem.  From noon to 4 pm, people of African descent strolled, sang, and danced their way down Malcolm X Boulevard wearing traditional garb.  The parade was followed by a festival in Marcus Garvey Park, where everyone was treated to music from native African singers and musicians.

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Fans delighted as Mali gets the ball rolling

by Ntshepeng Motema, Malian Beat Reporter —

Cheers for Mali’s initial victory in the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations Qualifiers could be heard in New York over the weekend. As the Mali squad trashed Botswana in Mali’s Capital, Bamako, local Malians stomped, applauded and high fived each other at the Afrika Sounds music shop on 116th and Frederick Douglas Boulevard in Central Harlem. Fans watched the game on a fuzzy television screen hanging from the music shop wall. “Our national soccer team is playing a  qualifying game for the Africa cup of nations cup that is going to be played in South Africa.” Dame Sy, one of the men who filled up the tiny shop said.  Not even the poor quality will dampen the spirits of the team’s supporters. “The transmission is bad, this television is not clear,” he added. “But it is ok with us, as long we can see something it is ok.”  Sy is slim built, dark in complexion and has a warm smile. A bunch of keys hang from the front pocket of his paint-stained jeans. “ I work in construction, I run a business here in Harlem and do plumbing and renovations in restaurants.”  Sy, 45, old has been living in New York for more than two decades.

Malians in New York do not care about the Yankees or the Knicks. For them, soccer is king. Sy barely misses a game, especially if it’s his home team. “Soccer is very important, you have a lot of people who play the game in Africa, and every country plays the game,.” Sy added. The transmission quality of the broadcast from Mali gets worse as the game heats up. Forty minutes into the match Mali was leading Botswana by 2 goals. David Ba, Malian who has been living in New York for 18 years, can barely contain his excitement. “When we have free time we have to get together and have some fun that can remind us of what we used to do back home, as you can see our team is going to win, no doubt,.” Ba said.

But the soccer match is just one activity in the small shop filled with cd’s and dvd’s. It is one of the many social places where West Africans of all generations  in Central Harlem meet. A group of elderly men are sitting on the one side of the room listening to traditional Malian music. In another corner, younger men are standing and listening to hip hop. All these sounds melt together, barely audible to an outsider, crystal clear to them. Ba adds that this is a typical scene that could be found in Bamako. “This is how it is in Mali, you go to watch a match at the market or a local pub and everyone is doing their own thing, everyone goes about their daily business but still take a glance at the match.”

In the last 10 minutes of the game, however, the cheers abruptly stopped. The connection to Mali was broken and the screen went from fuzzy to blank. “I do not know what is going to be the end because the connection is so bad, we cannot see anymore,” said one of the fans, a man named Fofana Toure.  “There’s still 10 minutes of the game left. Probably we have to listen to the radio or go to the internet to find out what is going on and who wins the game.” The Malian fans will be glad to know that eventually when the outcome of the game was published by the final whistle Mali had added another goal making it 3-0 over Botswana. It is a score that will make the men continue coming back to the cramped music shop, their little piece of home despite the bad transmission.

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