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Travel in music: Chapter 5 - 1983-87, Belgium (part III)

2020, the world is in confinement because of a corona virus. I have used this time to reminisce on my past through a musical blog series. They will take you through my peregrinations on this tiny, unique earth, in chronological order. Click on the song, use it as soundtrack, and enjoy!


1983-1987 - Chapter 5 | Aged nine, after 4 years in Spain, I moved back to Belgium. In this period, I nurtured the first real memories of my home country, still in the small village of Tervuren. Although part of the greater (bilingual) Brussels suburbia, it is, politically, in Flanders. The reality of our plural, diverse, nation, so small in size and population but split across such hard linguistic lines, hit me for the very first time.

Until then, I had been oblivious. My maternal family hails from Flemish-speaking Antwerp (and, on my grandmother's side, are German migrants). My paternal family’s roots are in French-speaking Wallonia but, tracing back to my great-grandfather, has also spent most of their lives abroad (my grandfather spent the first 19 years of his life in Japan, between the two great wars). I had so far mostly lived in Congo (then Zaire) and Spain, had been schooled in and spoke French at home but also conversed with my brothers mostly in Spanish. I did not feel any need to define myself as anything other than wholly “Belgian” nor could I have tried if I wanted. To identify as Flemish, Walloon or ‘Brusseleer’ would be like asking a child of divorce to choose between mother and father.

I have therefore always chosen to see Belgium as a crossroad and to ignore the many tragi-comical absurdities of our Babel puzzle. If Europe’s dream was born here, it is no coincidence. We are smack on the fracture line between the continent’s “Latin” and “Germanic” realms. In a young territory barely bigger than Lesotho, we have a German king, speak three official languages and use English when we cannot understand each other. Add several waves of migration, from Morocco, Italy, Congo, Turkey, etc. to the mix and the result is a welcoming land (most of the time) whose identity IS its diversity. To me, “belonging” really means accepting that I have several different layers of identity and that they are never mutually exclusive.

This clip represents diversity’s wealth perfectly. Salvatore Adamo, a Belgian-Italian immigrant composed it. Arno, a Brussels night owl, who sings mostly in English and French, with an endearingly thick Flemish accent, made it popular. Here they share a stage in my favorite concert venue of the capital, the aptly named “Ancienne Belgique”.


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