In 2015, the Belgian city of Mons, capital of the province of Hainaut, an important university town and commercial centre, has been elected as European Capital of Culture (www.mons2015.eu), along with the Czech city of Plzeň (www.plzen2015.cz).
The music of Belgium is a cultural crossroads where Flemish Dutch-speaking and Walloon French-speaking traditions mix with those of German minorities and of immigrant communities from Democratic Republic of the Congo and other distant countries.
One of the most famous jazz instruments, the saxophone, was invented by a Belgian: Adolphe Sax.
Some known Belgian blues artists are Elmore D (who sings in English and Walloon dialect), and the Flemish Roland van Campenhout (also known as Roland).
In the 1930s, the Belgian gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt became one of the first important jazz musicians to be born in Europe, and one of the most important jazz guitarists of all time. In 1949 Toots Thielemans joined a jam session in Paris with Sidney Bechet, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Max Roach and others. He moved to the US in 1952 where he was a member of Charlie Parker's All-Stars. Toots Thielemans is often credited by jazz aficionados and jazz critics to be the greatest jazz harmonica player of the century. His music has been used in films like Midnight Cowboy and Turkish Delight, and television series such as Sesame Street and Baantjer. Other well known Belgian artists are Aka Moon, Bobby Jaspar, Bert Joris, Philip Catherine, Steve Houben, Octurn and René Thomas.
Bobbejaan Schoepen has been a pioneer in Belgian vaudeville and popmusic since the late 1940s. Not only was he the first Belgian singer to manage an international breakthrough, he was also the first to use modern equipment, a personal tourbus and a system of artist sponsoring. He also introduced the first country & western recordings in the Low Countries and Germany. In the 1950s Bobbejaan Schoepen recorded his own absolutely crazy folk music often singing in Flemish dialect. He was also a virtuoso whistler.
From the late 1960s, Flanders saw a vivid revival of traditional music (and, to a lesser degree, of traditional dances) through the efforts of musicians like Wannes Van de Velde, Willem Vermandere, Walter De Buck, Hubert Boone, Herman De Wit and many more. They inspired a new generation of folk musicians through their written and recorded publications, and through festivals and regular summer academies and master classes.
Walloon folk music has not had as vibrant a revival as Flemish, but artists like Coïncidence, Remy Dubois, Luc Pilartz, Rue du Village and Claude Flagel have kept the folk traditions alive.
Contrary to general evolution, there has always been great openness across the so-called linguistical barriers - there are many collaborations between Belgian musicians of different language.
The greatest Belgian chansonnier was Jacques Brel, whose classic songs have been covered by several international artists such as David Bowie, Frank Sinatra, Scott Walker and Terry Jacks. Others like Salvatore Adamo, Pierre Rapsat, Arno, Maurane, Axelle Red and Lara Fabian have also enjoyed some success in other French-speaking countries.
The French chanson style also inspired some Dutch-speaking singers like Kor Van der Goten and Jan De Wilde.
With the 1960s folk revival came a new interest into dialect singing. Pioneer Wannes Van de Velde soon got a following, mostly in the folk and traditional styles, but eventually extending into the comedy rock of The Clement Peerens Explosition and the hip-hop of Flip Kowlier. Others, while mostly performing in standard Dutch, will include an occasional phrase or even a complete song in dialect (ex. Johan Verminnen, Rue des Bouchers and Raymond van het Groenewoud, Je veux de l'amour).
Since the early 1980s, African musicians have played an important part on the Belgian scene, especially those from the former Belgian colony of Congo. Congolese-Belgian Princesse Mansia M'Bila, Rwandan-Belgian Cécile Kayirebwa and Dieudonné Kabongo led this wave that soon incorporated Argentine tango music, Moroccan oud and other music from around the world. The 1990s saw the emergence of Zap Mama, a group of Congolese-Belgian women who played a fusion of Pygmy and other African music with European influences.
Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.
Date: February 2015.
Photo Credits: (1) Mons 2015, (2) Luc Pilartz, (3) Griff, (4) Snaarmaarwaar, (5) Cecilia, (6) Naragonia (unknown/websites).