Hier is dat feestje
The Flemish are coming… showcasing as the overseas guest region at this year’s English Folk Expo. Georgina Boyes introduces their new wave.
Fizzing with energy, invention and scintillating tunes, the new wave of Flemish folk is a party that you won’t want to miss. And it’s a celebration happening on our literal and digital doorstep. Over the past few years, young bands have drawn on the rich history of music and song in the north and west of Belgium to breathe fresh life into old tunes and draw in a new generation of listeners – and especially with the emergence of Boombal – dancers. What’s more, they’re touring widely and recording, so more than ever now there’s an abundance of chances to find and enjoy Flemish music.
Although it’s a recent development, new Flemish folk has substantial roots. From the late 1960s, bands like Rum and songwriters like Wannes Van de Velde and Willem Vermandere fostered an upsurge of enthusiasm for older and regional songs and songwriting that dealt with contemporary life. At a time when folk was voted the most popular music genre by a third of the Flemish public, the region’s main broadcasters included folk tracks on their daytime playlists, had sev- eral specialist folk programmes and their producer, Dree Peremans, made features with specially commissioned music like Het Zwarte Goud, on the closure of Belgian coalmines and Island about deep sea fish- ing. Through these a wide audience became aware the work of leading writer- performers like Wannes Van de Velde, Paul Rans, Dirk Van Esbroeck, Alfred den Ouden and Kristien De Hollander. Special- ist music labels and magazines rapidly emerged and helped to spread the word, whilst folk festivals, cultural centres and folk clubs provided year-round involve- ment for audiences and work for musi- cians from home and abroad.
By the 1990s, increasing confidence in local music meant Flanders had a thriving folk scene where there was open-minded room for chansons and gypsy jazz from Koen De Cauter, a cappella from Laïs, folk- rock from Kadril and traditional dance music from Het Brabants Volksorkest. Then between 1992 and 2007, from a base in the villages in the southernmost corner of West Flanders, Piet Chielens and Kristof Pector of Peace Concerts Passendale brought togeth- er Belgian performers and musicians from across the world to create songs for produc- tions that grew out of the area’s experi- ences of the First World War which had
national and international impact. Under- pinning this multiplicity of advances, organ- isations like Muziekcentrum Dranouter, Muziekmozaïek and a Flanders-wide net- work of Music Academies began to provide year-round teaching for anyone who want- ed to become involved, with Ethno-Flanders offering specific opportunities for sixteen to 30-year-olds. Tutors for all of these are often members of leading folk bands and their example plays a key role in encourag- ing the emergence of the next generation of musicians.
Given the Flemish fondness for a good party, it’s hardly surpris- ing that dance music is the inspiration for so many young bands. The Boombal move- ment, founded in 2000 by master diatonic accordeon player, Wim Claeys, was the genesis of much of the format for this. A member of seminal bands like Ambrozijn, Tref and Olla Vogala, but also a music teacher, one Tuesday night in 2000, Wim borrowed space in the back of an old fur- niture shop in Boomstraat in the East Flan- ders city of Ghent, aiming to give his stu- dents first-hand experience in playing for dances. He invited six couples to take part in the event, but cunningly provided no chairs, so that they had no option but to dance for the whole night. History records that this was the only time that a Boombal had more musicians on stage than dancers in the hall, as folk dance was found to be cool and the numbers of dancers and bals… well… boomed.
More dances also meant there was more need for bands and dance music and a wide range of young musicians rose to the challenge. Back To 1780s (Appel Reko- rds) was the quintet Wör’s premise for their 2015 debut album as they combed surviving manuscript collections of carillion players and church organists, dancing masters and bourgeois families in 18th Century Flan- ders. In Wör’s dynamic arrangements, what could have been a reverential anthology for the Belgian equivalent of National Trust shops, was exuberantly transformed. Her- alded by critics as “a soundtrack for The Game Of Thrones”, it was met with a bliz- zard of five star reviews on two continents and writers breathless with admiration for “the bouncy verve” of its minuets, “the smouldering energy” of its marches and the “Celtic abandon” of its Latin-titled hymn for a festive day. (As previously noted, Flemish festive days tend to be lively.) And
if you’d like to know exactly how festive music can get, there’ll be a chance for audi- ences to catch them live at English Folk Expo in Bury in October.
There was no need for MANdolinMAN, another favourite Flemish dance band, to search distant church archives for material to make their first album, Old Tunes Dusted Down (ARC Music). The earlier field collec- tions of Hubert Boone, father of band mem- ber Andries Boone, were immediately to hand. Originally formed to play for a cele- bration of Hubert’s 70th birthday, the com- bination of Andries and Dirk Naessens on mandolins, Peter-Jan Daems on mandola and Maarten Decombel on mandocello turned out to work so well that the quartet became a permanent band. With tunes from vernacular sources in the villages of Flanders, their appeal to dancers is instant and utterly infectious – couples in festival fields have been seen dancing to MANdolin- MAN in the pouring rain. The band tours widely – a series of concerts in Brazil prompted their album of classic and self- penned bossa nova tunes – and this year, they made a first appearance in England at Warwick Folk Festival. Their planned third album will take them back to the older repertoire of village brass bands in Flanders and possible joint brass-mandolin concerts. Innovatively linking community musicians with highly accomplished folk performers, the project promises to fill village squares with new and old dancers – ideally in fine, sunny weather.
Maarten Decombel makes an instru- mental quick change to the mandola for a totally different approach to dance music in the acoustic trio Snaarmaarwaar. If the roots of American rock are in the traditional music of the United States, Snaarmaar- waar’s power-packed performances with Jeroen Geerinck on guitar and Ward Dhoore on mandolin surely meet the defini- tion of finest Flemish rock. Wipe away any preconceptions about tired twanging old electric re-workings of melodies about milk- maids or fifteenth-rate would-be Guns ’N’ Roses posing around to Speed The Plough. Rock produced by Snaarmaarwaar surges with subtle beauty that creates its own unique impact. Since 2009, they have released three albums – Snaarmaarwaar, Phosphor Bronze and B.L.O.C.K., produced two books of their own tunes, appeared at festivals from China and Finland to Ger- many, France and Estonia – and deserve an even wider audience.
Q: How is it possible to make music that is utterly melodic, mighty – and acoustic
A: Discover the phenomenon that is Snaarmaarwaar.
New wave music in Flanders is not just renewing traditional dance music, there’s ample room for singing too. Surpluz – another of the bands who’ll be appearing at the Folk Expo in Bury this year – raise their voices in a fresh approach to the reper- toire of older songs. For their latest album, Jeroen and Bart Knapen, Pieterjan Van Kerckhoven, Steven Goossens, Hanneke Oosterlinck and Jonas Cole have re-imagined the encouraging title song, Laat Ons Drinken (“Let’s have a drink”) and Ik Zeg Adieu (the beautiful 16th Century song of lovers’ parting) in ways that take in all the new sounds that voices and instruments can – but in the past probably didn’t – make. An excellent introduction to the Flemish tradi- tional repertoire, it includes a version of Jan Broeder, a song about a hard-drinking, womanising monk. Reputedly it was banned for several hundred years but kept alive by subversive Flemings – join in the chorus as a show of anti-censorship solidarity.
Although Flemish/Dutch is the first language of Flanders, the region has long been the home of Catherine Delasalle, an exceptional interpreter of tra- ditional songs and chansons, whose first language is French. A notable songwriter, her six solo albums are mainly self-penned, the latest, Les Grands Oiseaux, was released on her own label earlier this year. Catherine has also been involved with pro- jects that have produced albums with young musicians in the experimental com- binations of Olla Vogala and Les P’tits Belges, a collection of musette songs with Koen De Cauter and Rony Verbiest. Her duet with Koen on Le Loup, La Biche Et Le Chevalier, which closes the album is melt- ingly beautiful. Intimate and warm in a lul- laby, hardening with emotion for a chan- son of lost love, the human voice is a rare and complex musical instrument and Catherine Delasalle demonstrates its infi- nite possibilities each time she sings.
Now, it’s easier than ever to find, listen to, and even buy albums from Belgium. But there’s still no substitute for seeing a live performance. In the case of Naragonia – sometimes a duo, sometimes a quartet of Pascale Rubens (diatonic accordeon, violin) and the multi-instrumentalist Toon Van Mierlo (diatonic accordeon, various bag- pipes, low whistle, soprano sax, clarinet, bombarde), who are occasionally joined by Luc Pilarz (violin) and Maarten Decombel (this time on guitar and mandola) – actually being there is a necessity. From their albums, you become aware of their excel- lent musicianship and the lilting, beautiful tunes they write. What never emerges on disc, however, is the fact that as part of their concert set, Pascale and Maarten sing together. And very good they are too. So if they’re ever at a venue near you, make sure don’t miss out on the chance to experience the full Naragonia.
Cheeringly, the fact that Flanders is the International Partner at English Folk Expo in Bury this year offers a chance for audiences there to get an insight into some of the lat- est music from the region. Three groups will be playing in Expo’s showcases – Wör, Sur-
Trio Dhoore Wör
pluz and Trio Dhoore, a real band of broth- ers. Koen (electro-acoustic hurdy gurdy), Hartwin (diatonic accordeon) and Ward Dhoore (guitar, mandola – he’s also a mem- ber of MANdolinMAN) have made two albums, Modus Operandi and Parachute (Appel Records). And thanks to the enlight- ened booking policy of Sidmouth Folk Week where they were an enormous hit this sum- mer, they are one of the handful of current Flemish bands who’ve already appeared in England. The intuitive closeness of their playing and their lyrical writing (in Flanders they obviously love a good tune) are a delight. English Folk Expo is in for a treat.
Does some – perhaps all – of the fore- going leave you with the question, how do they do it? How does a small region like Flanders (pop approximately 6.5 million) support such a varied and flourishing folk music scene, as clearly represented on this issue’s Contemporary Folk From Flanders 2016 compilation? As elsewhere in the world, sado-monetarism in government and ‘me too’ replication of BBC attitudes in broadcasting have brought cuts to Arts budgets and limited programme making in Flanders. But there is still public backing for culture as a force for social good. It counts for a lot.
At a directly practical level too, organisations like Ethno Flan- ders have been responsible for bringing young musicians together to play and sing in their formal courses and to jam together afterward in sessions in muziekcafés and clubs. Thoroughly enjoyable and inexpen- sive, for many participants, socialising can be at least as important as playing –many of the new wave bands first met at Ethno Flanders events.
Nor should anyone underestimate the role played by music teaching at workshops at festivals like Gooikoorts, clubs like ’t Ey in Belsele and in weekly classes in most towns. They’re almost invariably led by nationally-known professional musicians – check out the websites of almost any of the bands mentioned here and you’ll find ref- erences to their work as music teachers. Bart de Cock of Kadril, Stefan Timmermans of Fluxus and many other groupings share a passion for piping that has enthused the most bagphobic of students (though Flan- ders has a marked fondness for its tradi- tional instruments). Wim Claeys teaches the diatonic accordeon but also created the format which sees Boombals start with learning the steps before the evening pro- gresses to taking part in the dances. Maarten Decombel explains that his classes are open to any age group or level of profi- ciency, whilst Boombal welcomes individu- als, couples or groups to its events.
Ultimately, however, it’s down to a gen- erally positive attitude to the region’s tradi- tional music and a broad enough Flemish acceptance that life is for enjoying – and enjoyment is enhanced by music and song – that keeps folk buoyant.
Flanders – far enough away to offer an intriguing contrast, close enough for a weekend visit to catch a festival or live con- cert. And who could resist music from a cul- ture whose answer to the question “Where is the party” provides the immediate and heartfelt reply – “Hier is dat feestje” – the party is wherever you happen to be. F
Contemporary Folk From Flanders 2016
Your bonus album from EFEx: folk sounds from the European crossroad of Flanders…
Flanders, being a small region in a 2/ Snaarmaarwaar: Patrysse
small European country where two different languages con- verge, is, by default, a meeting point, a transit zone in a large
international space. It is constantly subject to international impulses and approaches this by using it to its own advantage. Flan- ders may be small but it is at the same time very versatile and creative, not in the least when it comes to music. Much more than a specific recognisable style, it is labelled by the outside world through its typical Flem- ish or Belgian ‘attitude’.
This album was compiled by Ian Ander- son for the focus on Flanders during this year’s English Folk Expo. It features the three selected folk groups Surpluz, WÖR and Trio Dhoore, alongside a range of musi- cians and bands of all sorts and styles.
The choice for Flanders as focus region came about as a result of a unique coopera- tion between Flanders Arts Institute and Folkforum. Folkforum was set up this year to empower the folk scene in Flanders. Together with the Wereldmuzieknetwerk (World Music Network) it aims to support artists in widening their horizons, crossing boundaries and establishing artistic exchange. People attending EFEx Bury or WOMEX in Santiago will be able to meet the organisations’ staff.
If you are curious for more, many of the compilation’s tracks were released on two renowned Belgian labels for folk and world music: Appel Rekords (denappel.be) and Home Records (homerecords.be). Both labels offer a wide selection of online audio material. Anxious to play some of the fea- tured tunes yourself? Some of the artists on the compilation have their own tunebooks. Get in touch!
1/ Naragonia Quartet: Hellebore / Too Late To Sleep
Naragonia are the great tune writer and multi-instrumentalist Toon Van Mierlo and his partner-in-crime Pascale Rubens. They combine danceable folk with a smooth and intoxicating sound. Close your eyes, it will carry you away! On this track they per- form in quartet with the Walloon fiddler Luc Pilartz and another amazing tune writer from Ghent, guitarist Maarten Decombel.
Pascale Rubens, firstname.lastname@example.org www.naragonia.be
Bouncing riffs or warm melodies in a tight interplay, a simple voice interpreting ancient lyrics, and then suddenly a funky Rhodes sound. SMW features Maarten Decombel on mandola, Jeroen Geerinck on guitar and Ward Dhoore on mandolin. These snare wizards bring refreshed traditionals or great new compositions with an exciting sound cut out for feet as well as ears.
Jeroen Geerinck, email@example.com www.snaarmaarwaar.be
3/ Trio Dhoore: Chameleon
Trio Dhoore, with brothers Koen on electroacoustic hurdy-gurdy, Hartwin on diatonic accordeon and Ward on acoustic guitar and mandolin, are a great represen- tative of the young generation of Flemish folk musicians. By bringing powerful melodies of their own making, handling their instruments masterfully and displaying excellent taste, they prove that acoustic music can at the same time swing, arouse emotions and be modern in its simplicity.
Ward Dhoore, firstname.lastname@example.org www.triodhoore.com
4/ Wim Claeys: Kom Zwijg Ne Keer
Member of the internationally acclaimed bands Ambrozijn and accordeon trio TREF as well as instigator of the popular Boombal (bal folk) and music teacher, Wim Claeys has infused folk in Flanders with some new impulses. Today he’s involved in projects combining music and cabaret with tunes of historical folk singers from Ghent or his own dirty songs, as always spiced with loads of humour.
Wim Claeys, email@example.com www.wimclaeys.be
5/ MANdolinMAN: Waltz Eppegem / Zemst
The track of this mandolin quartet started off as a tribute to the unique field- work of musician and researcher Hubert Boone, comparable in scope with the work of Alan Lomax. It was Boone’s son Andries who – together with three kindred spirits Maarten Decombel, Dirk Naessens and Peter-Jan Daems – revived notations from Hubert’s books and made them travel worldwide for the first time.
Andries Boone, firstname.lastname@example.org www.mandolinman.be
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6/ WÖR: Zerezo
Back to the 1780s! If it sounded good
back then, why not today? This Ghent- based acoustic quartet searches for forgot- ten gems from late 18th Century songbooks and makes them sound like racy chamber music on traditional and modern instruments: saxophone, violin, bagpipes, accordeon and guitar. Their first album (produced by Ian Stephenson) was praised by the internation- al press for its refreshing approach and fine arrangements.
Bert Ruymbeek, email@example.com www.wearewor.be
7/ Aurélie Dorzée & Tom Theuns: La Non- chalante
Straight from an unearthly imagination comes this theatrical music by Aurélie Dorzée and Tom Theuns, an acoustic duo using mul- tiple instruments (violin, viola d’amore, man- docello, open tuning guitar…) and haunting vocals to create intensely poetic musical land- scapes, full of humour and fantasy. This is modern folk evading each convention. Aurélie Dorzée, firstname.lastname@example.org www.aureliedorzee.com
8/ I Fratelli Tarzanelli: La Clermontoise This duo pairs the French-Hungarian
fiddle player Baltazar Montanaro with the Italo-Belgian accordeon player Pablo Gold- er, blending the Italian and bal folk back- ground of Pablo with the nomadic style of Baltazar. They don’t stick too much to the bal folk events however, but travel around the globe freely and playfully.
Pablo Pietro Golder, email@example.com vi.be/ifratellitarzanelli
9/ Surpluz: Amsterdam
Surpluz has been the band that gave a
face to the newest generation of high-level professional folk musicians, combining early Flemish folk songs with traditional and modern instruments. For their upcoming release they found inspiration in the per- sonal libraries of Flanders folk music author- ities and invited Jonas Cole and Hanneke Oosterlijnck for new vocal harmonies.
Bart Knapen, firstname.lastname@example.org http://vi.be/surpluz
10/ Edwin Vanvinckenroye: Castar
Edwin’s musical career kicked off dur- ing the folk revival of the 1990s with his brothers and the band Troissoeur. During the past years, he has worked quietly on a solo project that translates itself into a series of intimate ‘imprositions’, ranging between composition and improvisation, using the fiddle in combination with his own ‘nonsense’ language.
Edwin Vanvinckenroye email@example.com www.thetribesite.com
11/ Les Cerveaux Lents: Mbala
For thirteen years, this most extraordi-
nary collection of cerebral creatures – Les Cerveaux Lents literally means ‘The Slow Brains’ – were playing at weddings, pubs and in the streets before recording a note. This band brings together some well- esteemed Ghent-based musicians from the pop/rock scene (Absynthe Minded, Va Fan Fahre) for the love of Balkan, Gypsy, swing… Jan Hoozee, firstname.lastname@example.org www.lescerveauxlents.be
12/ Griff Trio: Bargoensch Drinklied
Griff is the result of a meeting of a new generation of high-level musicians who felt challenged to make something exciting with “bagpipes without kilts”. They claim to make a “100 percent Belgian” polyphonic landscape on pipes, flutes and voices using lost and found music from Flemish and Wal- loon historical song books which they com- plete with new compositions.
Rémi Decker, email@example.com www.griff.be
13/ Anne Niepold & Gwen Cresens: In Den Barbiekot
A duo consisting of a diatonic and a chromatic accordeon player, both highly esteemed musicians with quite different backgrounds and sounds but united by the same musical vision. They are always look- ing for a different approach, an original point of view, thus accentuating the pure force within music: a beautiful melody, a tight arrangement, and a spontaneous per- formance.
Gwen Cresens, firstname.lastname@example.org www.anneniepold.be www.tanguedia.be
14/ Broes: Winterland
The music of this acoustic quintet from
Ghent might tempt you to a dance but in the end is best enjoyed just snoozing in a hammock. Being educated in folk and jazz they mix diverse musical styles into strong themes with fine arrangements and still leave space for improvisation and the joy of playing.
Anouk Sanczuk, email@example.com www.broesmusic.be
15/ Catherine Delasalle: Le 5ème élément
Catherine is a singer-songwriter who has been living in Belgium for a long time, during which she has worked with a lot of Flemish artists like Wouter Vandenabeele & Olla Vogala, Vera Coomans and Koen Decauter. This track was taken from her last album Les Grands Oiseaux which distin- guishes itself by a typically poetic and scenic atmosphere.
Catherine Delasalle, firstname.lastname@example.org www.catherinedelasalle.be
16/ Novar: A Kiss In Berlin / Novar
Novar are a brand new band including two protagonists in the Flemish folk scene: Toon Van Mierlo (pipes / sax) and Jeroen Geerinck (keys / mandola / electro). Together with the French musicians Aurélien Clarem- baux (accordeon) and Thierry Nouat (hurdy- gurdy) they aim at creating a musical uni- verse which combines a deep neo sound with bits of trad and bits of electro.
Jeroen Geerinck, email@example.com www.novar.be
17/ Cecilia: Brassless
Cecilia is a downright dance music group
on hurdy-gurdy, bagpipes and flutes. Bour- rées and rondeaus, scottishes or mazurkas are made for dancers, but performed in a highly sophisticated way: well-structured melodies with fine arrangements and a good sense of dynamic. Their two releases attained international critical acclaim.
Thomas Hoste, firstname.lastname@example.org www.ceciliafolk.be
18/ Ghent Folk Violin Project: Wals Voor Lotte En Alfons Deloor
Ghent Folk Violin Project is one of the many projects led by fiddle player Wouter Vandenabeele (Ambrozijn, Olla Vogala etc.). Being the brilliant teacher he is, he has a huge influence on today’s younger gener- ation. In GFVP he brings some of the best young musicians together for a powerful but stylised type of chamber folk music.
Wouter Vandenabeele, email@example.com www.woutervandenabeele.be F
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