Flamundo! 5: Flanders in the World - by Guy Morley

I’m very pleased to have been asked to help select artists for this year’s Flamundo CD. An album that draws on the diversity and strength of artists from Flanders. Why? Because I have been interested in the music from the region for many years.

I used to programme and help run an arts venue in Manchester, UK called Band on the Wall and a sizable chunk of the venues programme was jazz, world music often veering into the more experimental and interesting. The most I knew about music from Belgium were bands like Front 242, composers like Wim Mertens and a slight love and fascination for the late great experimental jazz and rock musician Marc Moulin. In the 90s I was a rebellious anti Margret Thatcher youth, drawn to alternative culture and picking up enough about Belgium to make me regard it as an interesting place to be certainly not the boring middle of the road place we were led to believe. A love of agitprop punk and John Peel’s BBC Radio 1 show also built my knowledge from Netherlands and pioneers The Ex and Eton Crop to Brussels and Bernthøler, whose early experimental pop was like the UKs Young Marble Giants.

Moving to Brighton to work for the Brighton Dome and Festival I was able to develop my taste for the contemporary and I also started to work with Theatre and Dance. In 1999 I was lucky enough to catch one of Flemish Choreographer and director Alain Platel’s pieces with Les Ballets C de la B at Sadlers Wells. Friends at the UKs Contemporary Music Network told me of the Vooruit, a Ghent venue that not only holds a unique position in the history of Flanders art and performance, but one that has contributed deeply to a much wider European culture. A place where great theatre, music and dance was produced like that of Les Ballets C de la B. During a trip to Bruges for the Flemish Jazz Meeting I managed to go Ghent and see it for myself. I fell for the city and the region – and have been back regularly for visits ever since to see performances and work and to develop projects with musicians like Peter Vermeersch and the band Flat Earth Society.

All this interest stimulated a wider appreciation for the music from the region and not just that influenced by the alternative and the avant-garde. There are inspiring and great musicians of all styles and genres. World music is no exception, from the pure and popular to fusion and cross genre. A good example of this are the recent collaborations between jazz collective Mâäk's Spirit and Belgium based Tunisian singer Ghalia Benali, a track of which is included on the Flamundo! 5 CD. It reminds me that Natasha Atlas also grew up in the Arabic quarter of Brussels and went on to collaborate with Jah Wobble, their track Bomba was a pivotal moment for me.

Let me introduce the CD to you.

It kicks of with a collaboration between David Bovée (Think of One’s) and Congolese musician Dinozord. The project is called Schengen Shege. You might remember BBC Award winner Think of One from the excellent Crammed Discs label.

Next up is a production of Homerecords.beMamy Kanouté who was one of Baaba Maal’s principle backing singers along side Brussels based Kora player Bao Sissoko. The track stands out because of Wouter Vandenabeele’s audacious string arrangements.

El Juntacadáveres expertly combine a heady mix of Tango with electronic beats and other influences.

MW'Soul is the afore mentioned Mâäk's project directed by trumpeter Laurent Blondiau with Tunisian singer Ghalia Benali. As superb and as deep as it could possibly be.

La Sieste du Dromadaire is an insightful project by Ananta Roosens who was the violinist from the Gotan Project. Don’t expect those urban inflexions though this reflects a love for intimate chamber music and tango.

Black Flower are perhaps best described as being a brilliant alternative un-straight ahead jazz outfit with a great overdriven Rhodes sound and a fascination of Ethiopian and afrobeat groove.

MANdolinMAN are one of Flanders hardest gigging outfits, playing all over the world. The quartet has a unique take on Bossa Nova centring on their virtuosic mandolin playing.

Hijaz are a quartet named after an Arabic musical scale and includes both oud and piano. They have a beautiful articulate, open and lyrical quality that uses Arabic music as a satarting point but is defiantly jazz

Next are two projects that have an orchestrated element: ZIKR Project (now called Askanyi) was set up by the Brussels violinist Sebastien Paz Ceroni to reflect the multicultural reality using western classical and African vocal music. The stimulus for the project was four sacred African polyphonic songs which were then arranged for voice and string quartet by four different composers. Then his Safar Republique featuring Baba Sissoko takes us on a wonderful journey reminiscent of the Penguin Café Orchestra

Taking us toward a folk direction is Melike Tarhan is a Belgian singer and composer with Turkish roots – she received high praise for her first album (released by Long Distance/Harmoniamundi), and this track from her latest is beautiful with saxophonist John Snauwaert.

Aurélie Dorzée and Tom Theuns are a wayward musical duo. A kind of experimental pop-folk where improvised music and classical merge in a surreal performance. Catch them on their own concert barge. For their latest album they invited the Senegalese percussionist Serigne CM Gueye.

Then there is Jawhar Basti from Brussels who has Tunisian roots. A folk and soulful song-writer whose roots are in north-african chaabi and Nick Drake folk.

Fitting in somewhere between the alternative francophone sound of bands like Les Négresses Vertes and Têtes Raides is Jaune Toujours; punk, pop, jazz, dub, ska and Balkan influences combine in an atypical way - no guitars, a front person who plays the accordion and a steaming rhythm section with added horns.

Keeping the tempo up UTZ take us back in a funkier Brazilian direction followed by a production of MuziekpubliqueMalick Pathé Sow & Bao Sissoko featuring Talike Gelle two great Senegalese musicians now living in Belgium. Live, they create an exquisite, trance-like set that is remarkable for Sow’s warm, soulful vocals and the skill of their musicianship.

We wind up with Olla Vogala, an orchestra founded by violinist Wouter Vandenabeele and brings together classical, world, folk and jazz. From medieval music, auvergne bourrées, Monteverdi, Flemish folk melodies, Arabian songs, ancient French ballads, a-capella, performance, recipes in Middle-Dutch, original material, and improvisations, alongside a healthy dose of experimentation.

I’m sure you’ll agree that there is plenty to enjoy here – and much to reassert that Flanders is still an interesting place to be. And where their musicians and artists can inspire your audiences.

Guy Morley is an independent promoter and programmer of world, jazz and contemporary music. He is director of No Nation a company which specialises in creative production, taking events and making music around the world. Guy was invited by WOMEX to be on the showcase selection jury for the 2014 programme.

This project is realised with the support of MINSTREL - project: Music network supporting trans-national exchange and dissemination of music resources at European level. 

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Flamundo! 5 by Katfiddle on Mixcloud

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