Kévi Donat grew up both in France and in Martinique (French West Indies) in a multicultural environment and ultimately went on to become a graduate of Sciences Po and Public Health Management. He was supposed to become a director of nursing homes, but quickly realized that wasn't really his thing.
Four years ago, a friend of his told him that he'd be a great tour guide. What was supposed to be a temporary job, became a career!
Kévi offers an alternative and authentic vision of Paris. His tours tell the history of those who are usually invisible. From the Harlem Renaissance to the Négritude movement, the Senegalese soldiers to the Black GI’s fighting to liberate France, the fancy neighborhood of Saint-Germain-des-Prés to the African markets of Château-Rouge, his company, Le Paris Noir gives you both a historic and contemporary vision of the Black communities in Paris.
We got the chance to sit down with him to further discuss his journey, learn more about Kévi and his company Le Paris Noir. Check out his interview below:
Tell us a bit about yourself, and Le Paris Noir, and how it all began.
I am Kévi, I am a licensed tour guide and I provide tours of the Black History of Paris. It all began 7 years ago when I started doing really traditional tours for another company. It was all fun but I wanted to do something different and more personal. Visitors had a lot of questions about the presence of Black people in Paris.
I decided to some tours answering their questions but also my own personal questions because race is not a common topic in France. This is how Le Paris Noir started.
After relocating to Paris from Martinique, how hard was it to find your footing in unfamiliar territory?
I did not come straight from Martinique to Paris. First I studied 4 years in Rennes, Brittany. It is a friendly city but back then there was not really a big Caribbean community (unlike Paris, Bordeaux, Toulouse or Montpellier) so it was maybe a bit more difficult to adapt but I still loved it anyway.
How do your tours compare or contrast with the mainstream, more widely known histories of Paris?
Paris is a very old city where lots of talented people from all over the world lived/worked/studied/innovated. I chose to focus on the legacy of Black women and men which is not that common here. I start with the debate about race in France but also about a colonial French history. I don’t think so many French tour guides decide to.
What are some unknown facts about black Parisian history that might surprise us?
Well, (some) people know about the legacy of African American artists and intellectuals (from Josephine Baker to James Baldwin) but the birth of la Négritude (Black French literary movement) or the debate we are having about race and identity (ethnic statistics, affirmative action, reparations) might suprise you a lot.
What do you want people outside of France to know about the black community in Paris?
That it is really diverse to the point that most (some?) people do not want to talk about a single community. Nationality or the origin of the family might be more important than the color of skin.
What can one expect to walk away with after taking one of your tours?
For an outsider, I think it is a unique vision of the City of Lights that is really far away from the stereotypes of the Frenchman wearing a béret, holding a baguette, being super arrogant. You can expect to see a history full of contrasts and complexity.
Tell us about some of the things you have in the works outside of your tours?
Besides the tours I do a podcast named Le Tchip. With 2 friends (who both are Black journalists) we talk (in French) about pop culture and Black identity. If you learn/speak French I think it is a great listen!
Where can we find you online?
My website is going to change soon but for now it is leparisnoir.com but is not fully bilingual yet.
On Instagram I can be found at @leparisnoir.
Take a tour with Kévi!
Join Kévi as he co-hosts an amazing Black history tour and wine tasting experience on July 13th at 4pm & 6pm or July 16th at 4pm during AFROPUNK weekend in Montmartre, the heart of black Paris.
Limited space available. Book your spot today!