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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

PAPARAZZI: Afro-Beat Marks UNHCR Anniversary




They say music calms the savage beast, and Congolese musician Mathieu Ngombo certainly agrees. He says he is harassed less frequently by police when he carries his guitar.


"It's a lucky guitar," he said, "or perhaps the police simply think that I'm working or an artist, so they tend to leave me alone."


Ngombo's guitar was more than lucky at Red Cross headquarters Saturday afternoon: It was in fine form as he joined his band, Le Soleil, for a couple of raucous sets, playing a selection of French-language songs with a calypso, ska and dominant Afro-beat.


And while Le Soleil may be an accomplished band, its nine members, refugees from Angola, the Congo Republic and the former Zaire, are still seeking to become established in Russia.


Le Soleil's music, as well as the folk music of Afghan singer Mohammed Zabeiv and his group, Fresh Air, got the many Afghan teens present dancing and provided a suitable backdrop to the fair, organized by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the United Nations' main refugee-aid agency, to mark the fifth anniversary of its activities in Russia.


The UNHCR's Sadia Shafaqoj said it's been tough working in Moscow, where refugees come from all over the world and face the difficult task of dealing with a document-loving bureaucracy, without possessing any documentation.


Shafaqoj, who hails from Brazil but who became involved with refugee work after having completed her studies in Switzerland, said conditions were actually easier in Dagestan where she served as a field officer for seven-months.


"There we were dealing with internally displaced people of similar culture and background," she said. "Urban refugees make for a tougher situation. The Africans, for example, standing out much more here."


Among those in attendance at the fair were Ethiopian Mamevud Negash, director of the St. Seraphim charity in Moscow, and Parisian Pascal Guerif of Equilibre, a French nongovernmental organization that helps implement UNHCR programs.


Guerif, who worked under fire in Sarajevo during the war in Bosnia, said this mission may be his last. A social worker by profession, he cited the stress of refugee service and the amount of work to be done in France.


"There also comes a time," he said, "when you've got to settle down in one place."


Margarita's Makeover


French firm Sisley took a novel, a Russian novel, approach to launching its cosmetics in Russia last Tuesday in the appropriately bookish setting of the Library at the Baltschug Kempinski Hotel. Taking a page from Mikhail Bulgakov's "The Master and Margarita," Sisley engaged two actors from the MKhAT theater to play the scene in which heroine Margarita verbally spars with the devil's helper, Azazello.


Margarita, Azazello tempted, might be reunited with her lover, the Master, but first, a makeover would prove necessary, specifically through the application of a special cream -- in this case a large tub of Sisley skin cream.


Frenchman Marc Kaspustin, who represents distributors COFIDEC in Russia, was quick to downplay the satanic implications of the presentation and its link to Sisley.


"Sisley may take this idea further in subsequent publicity," he said, "but Azazello is both an angel and devil figure. ... That's why I am emphasizing the magical element of our products."


Painter's Parting


It's not easy being a mother, particularly when it comes to parting with one's child -- particularly when the child is as beautiful as "The Moonlight Allegory."


"A painter is like a mother," explained Moscow artist Margarita Morri, "and giving away a painting is like losing a child."


But the cause for Morri's sacrifice was a worthy one. She donated "The Moonlight Allegory" for the opening of her exhibition, "Spirit of India," on Thursday at D. P. Dhar Hall at the Indian Embassy.


One of Morri's many impressionist works, the painting depicts a young girl gazing at the moon and clasping her hands in a traditional Indian pose of greeting.


"It's my experience as a woman that we sometimes have the need to turn our eyes on something celestial," Morri said of the painting.


"Perhaps this is because the women stand not only on the Earth but rises above to something beautiful and spiritual."


Morri said she first discovered an affection for India in the late 1970s when she illustrated "Lotus," a book by Latvian writer Anna Saksy. Soon after, she discovered the paintings of Russian artist Nikolai Roerich and his writer wife, Yelena, who spent decades exploring India.


"It's a very spiritual country," said the petite Morri, still clad in a warm fur coat and hat in her efforts to combat the worldly temperatures of Moscow in December.


Poached P?t?


Russians are well-known for their love of fish, but red herring probably isn't one of them. The red herring in this case was a promotional event organized by Frenchmen Raphael Guillou and Yves Betrencourt at Chesterfield Cafe. The event was designed to lure potential Russian partners to sample, and import, the gourmet fish and seafood p?t?s, terrines and products of the Normandy-based firm of Charles Amand, where Betrencourt is export manager.


All was going according to plan until the promotional samples fell prey to poachers, in the form of Russian customs officials.


Betrencourt said the firm is active worldwide but has until now not dealt with Russia. "This is our first time here, and I had feared something might go wrong."


Guillou, a native of Rennes in Brittany, came to St. Petersburg four years ago after being intrigued by a television program, liked the real thing so much he stayed, taught, married and, last year, decided to put his knowledge of the market to use, choosing the food industry.


"For France, food is very important. It's more than food, it's part of our culture," he said.


Looking somewhat abashed by their food's failure to make it to Moscow, Guillou and Betrencourt said they were confident the enterprise would proceed, and, hopefully, one day they would be able to laugh about the one that got away.


Temperamental Thespians


Almost as difficult to deal with as customs officials can be actors, but well-known Russian film director Ivan Dykhovichny said he has no problems coaxing the best out of them.


"I was an actor myself," said the 50-year-old Muscovite director of such films as "Music for December" and "The Black Monk," "I understand all their problems -- we're of the same blood."


Caught in the act of celebrating the completion of the shooting of his latest film, the comedy "Knight II," at Chesterfield, Dykhovichny was accompanied by veteran actors Vasily Lanovoi and Viktor Pavel.


Lanovoi, who held the title of People's Artist and who won a Lenin Prize during the Soviet era, now plies his trade at the Vakhtangov Theater and plays a policeman in "Knight II," which is set for release in March.


"Actors are the most difficult people on Earth," he said. Asked why, he replied, "I've been an actor for 45 years, and I just know." Not coincidentally, Lanovoi's wife is also an actor.


Apparently Dykhovichny was successful in coaxing the best from his team. He described that during filming in Rhodes, Greece, a car carrying the actors began sinking in water. "You could tell by their faces, they were uneasy," Dykhovichny explained, "but we kept shooting, and they were very understanding."


Jazz Joint Opens


Moscow's burgeoning live-music scene got another addition Friday with the official opening of the Birdland jazz club and cafe, and co-owner Mikhail Green said he hopes it remains a sanctuary for jazz enthusiasts of all stripes.


Green, a Spanish-language interpreter by training and aficionado of Latin American music, said the opening of the club was the realization of a dream.


"I've been a collector of jazz music for 15 years, and have visited some of the best clubs in Europe," he said. "It's great to have a place where we can welcome jazz musicians in Moscow."


The club, near the Serpukhovskaya metro station, was indeed cozy, subtly lit and rather intimate with one main room where a series of artists performed to mark the opening.


French-horn player Arkady Schiecloper said he supported the idea of cultivating an atmosphere in which both enthusiasts and performers can feel at ease. "Then we can play host to such wonderful musicians like me," he said.


Pakistanis Party


"Pakistan forever!" cheered the assembly of students, dignitaries and guests at the conclusion of a patriotic speech by Muhammad Yonas Khak delivered Saturday evening at the Inter Club in southern Moscow.


The tone struck by Khak, charg? d'affaires of the Pakistani Embassy, reflected the tone of the celebration honoring the first anniversary of the Pakistani Students' Association in Moscow and the 121st anniversary of the birth of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnh, the founder of modern Pakistan.


"Your quest for knowledge and learning is truly a heroic and exalted endeavor," Khak said, in a reverential tone.


Among the gifts given out over the course of evening was an ornamental Pakistani shirt presented to Irina Smirnova, a longtime music instructor at the university.


Playing keyboards, Smirnova accompanied former student, Zulficar Nasir, as he played drums and sang traditional Pakistani songs to the small but enthusiastic assembly, inspiring some students to dance as they carried heaping platters of pakora and rice out to the buffet table.


The man behind the anniversary celebration was 24-year-old Nadeem Akram Bult, an engineering student at the Russian People's Friendship University, where 114 nationalities are represented and where the majority of the association's 35 students are enrolled.


"We created the organization because we still have so many problems here," Bult said, "and because we wanted to introduce our culture into the school."