Mario Forte plays the violent

We met outside the back door of 59 Rivoli, which means we met on Two Balls Street: La rue des Deux Boules. I had just photographed him playing violin, he was the closing performance of a 3-day jazz festival, but we wouldn’t have spoken if he hadn’t been standing with pianist Tony Tixier, because I’m shy and he resembles Rasputin.


Earlier that day, Tony had walked in yelling, “Who is Danielle Voirin?!?!” which meant he’d seen my blog. I was posting the day’s best photos from the festival and I guess he was either impressed or surprised to see the emotion he expresses while playing.

When he saw me leaving through the back door, he introduced me to Mario as “a really good photographer,” bless his heart, and we became friends.

Many of my favorite Parisians are nomads who keep a foot in town but create/perform/show much of their work elsewhere. Like the center of a wheel with spokes going all over the planet, it’s a city of fortuitous intersections. It’s comfortable, beautiful, geographically practical, but missing an edge, a creative grit that, if you need and can’t manage to keep a hold of here, you have to get elsewhere and bring back with you.
This is what I feel Mario Forte does. You can feel it on him when he comes back to town. And it’s always fresh, because he’s always in motion. Based in Paris, born in Italy, teaching in Lausanne, gigging anywhere and everywhere (Mexico, New York, Paris, Berlin, Lisbon, Austria, Germany), and sometimes recharging in Morocco.
What I appreciate about Mario, in addition to his incredible talent and diversity in musical collaboration, is that he’s really happy to be here, to be alive, exploring, composing, connecting people, and collaborating. He’s right now, in the present moment. not afraid to jump, a person who lives in the river, rather than watching from the banks.

In one of our first conversations about music, I said if I could do anything other than photography, I would be a musician. He then told me that every one of his friends who practices other creative arts all want to be musicians. But perhaps it’s just human nature, music is so connected to our emotions.

One night, talking about jazz over his home-made tagine, I commented on the lack of female jazz musicians. Many singers, not so many musicians. We were listening to Charlie Mingus, there was a solo and he said, “really, can you imagine a woman playing this?” Yes, it was hard to imagine, but a woman would play something very different, something striking in other ways, ways we haven’t heard yet.

Mario showed up in a dream once. In wondering what my mind was using him as a symbol of, I decided to draw a tarot card on the question. I got The Fool card. I’m a tarot novice, but know the Fool is the spontaneous, free-spirited child within us, creative and unafraid. It’s the way we are in the world before life teaches us to build protective walls around our unlimited potential.

Still, I wanted more info on the card and went to my favorite resource,, and found some phrases that rather closely describe how I see Mario :

The Fool :
– Is all about new experiences, personal growth, development and adventure.
– Encourages you to believe in yourself and follow your heart no matter how crazy or foolish your impulses may seem.
– Lives a carefree life, free from worry and anxiety. He does not seem to mind if he does not really know what lies ahead.
– Enhances courage, risk-taking and the creative expression needed to open up new areas in your life.
– Is about to step off a cliff into the material world.

I think Mario jumped early in life and has been flying ever since.

Mario_0094 ret

Amine Benotmane

I was bartending in an Irish pub in St. Michel, it was a very different epoch in my life.  My boyfriend had just moved to London and I was working part time in this bar, owned by a Turkish man who’s real name was probably not Charlie, and part time for a photographer who shall remain nameless but who we, the assistants, un-fondly called Le Monstre.  I was living in a 13 m2 apartment and in my spare time would pile all my belongings into the bathroom and practice taking portraits with lights borrowed from my school.  I lived this way for about a year but it seemed like five.

Amine came into the pub regularly for a Coke.  Our first conversation began with him asking me, “are you Muslim?”  I was pouring an excessively-frothy beer and he saw the ring on my middle finger.  I bought it on my first trip outside the U.S., to Mexico in 1995. It was a silver moon and star that wrap around my finger and cuddle each other without touching.   I had completely ignored its many meanings and uses, and simply wanted to wear a couple of dreamy elements of the night sky on my hand.

Amine is from Constantine, Algeria, and when I talk about wanting to visit his country he tells me, “Danielle, I’ll take you there. You have to be careful, we are savages!” He says this with a big smile and playful eyes. He’s a sweetheart, the friend you can count on whenever needed. When I bought my guitar, he took me to every store on rue de Douai and played guitars for me so I could hear which one felt and sounded like it should be mine.

He makes friends easily everywhere and is a remarkable diffuser of conflict. I’ve seen him completely extinguish another man’s anger with his kindness. The streets of Paris can be aggressive, everyone walks around owning the space around them and pushing you off the edge of it if you penetrate their perimeters. Amine has such an ever-accessible sense of humor and lightness about him, that walking through the city with him, I feel we float above the angst.

In the time we have known each other, he has created a heavy metal band called Acyl. I finally heard their music when they got a gig playing at the Maroquinerie in Belleville and he asked if I would come take photos. It was summer, and I walked in wearing a pale pink tank top, jeans and sandals. I usually like to blend in if I’m going to be photographing, but it had completely slipped my mind that day. I believe I was the only person not wearing black, with heavy boots on. I felt like a spring chic walking into a dungeon.

When Amine came on stage, I was down in front, ready. Except that I wasn’t. For my uninitiated mind, there was no build up, they jumped right into the fire and took us with them. Heavy guitar, heart-palpitating drums, and then Amine started screaming these growling guttural sounds into the microphone, from someplace deep inside that I had never witnessed. I was stunned. Impressed. A little confused. Where was this anger coming from? How do you go from silence, to making the most devilish sounds your human voice can create?

Because I consider him such a gentle giant, I think I smiled like Amelie Poulain discovering who the photo-booth repairman is, fascinated by the contrast and delighted to see my friend expressing himself so fully. I stopped just short of laughing out loud as if on a roller coaster, because I could see this was serious business, this metal music that was so foreign to me.

What I find so interesting, and maybe naïve of me, is the contrast between their on-stage personae and how the whole band is a bunch of really nice guys that wouldn’t harm a fly. Amine was right, they are savages, but only when they express themselves through their music.