Musical multilingualism: It wasn't all bad in Belgium...

Musical multilingualism: It wasn't all bad in Belgium...
Lennaert & the Bonskis: Lennaert Maes, Andries Boone, Chris Carlier. Credit: Koen Bauters

From two-for-one film tickets and croquette competitions to language-learning musical performances: here's The Brussels Times' round-up of feel-good stories to kickstart your weekend.

Today's positive pick

Belgium is known as a multilingual melting pot, but new arrivals to the country often aren't familiar with the national languages. One theatre project aims to change this by putting on musical performances specifically targeted at those learning Dutch.

Lennaert Maes, lead singer of Lennaert & De Bonskis, was first approached by Brussels organisation De Rand 14 years ago with the idea of a musical production to help people learn Dutch. Maes was working as a teacher at the time, with a few musical projects on the side. Eager to focus solely on music, he was "immediately attracted to the idea," he told The Brussels Times.

He has been doing the shows ever since, along with fellow band members Andries Boone and Chris Carlier. The trio has produced three CDs and a comic book, all with the aim of helping people master the Dutch language. "I love that although I'm not a teacher anymore, there is an educational element to the shows: there is a teacher within me and I can let it out in the productions."

'O beloved Belgium'

This year's programme is named after the national anthem, Oh Dierbaar België ('O beloved Belgium') and the first show of the season was on Tuesday 3 October at the Oude Badhuis venue in Antwerp. The group have 30 performances lined up throughout Flanders and will also be coming to Brussels' Sint-Gorikshallen on 23 November.

As well as original songs, this edition includes some of Belgian singer Stromae's songs, translated into Dutch by Maes. They also use easy, well-known songs, such as Ik hou van jou ('I love you') and traditional songs which people can learn easily and sing in a round (splitting into groups and staggering start times), creating "waves of singing through the audience."

The shows are for all ages – from school students to adult learners – and for people of all backgrounds. The band's audiences are hugely diverse Maes enthuses: "Today I had someone from the Dominican Republic, sitting next to someone from China, next to someone from Afghanistan."

He stressed that diversity is desperately needed in our increasingly polarised world. "It isn't about the differences, but about the things we have in common: we are all learning this language together." Maes is well aware of the challenges of learning Dutch after his Italian wife learnt the language.

Although Dutch may initially seem a difficult language to learn, he says, being in a theatre and singing along makes it easier. The band strongly encourages audience participation, stating that the show's aim is to "create a nice atmosphere around language learning." People immediately start singing along and soon know the lyrics – and vocabulary – by heart.

Belgium to the world

Maes underlines the benefits of language learning, not only for job opportunities but also on a psychological level. Language learners gain access to another's culture and become more open-minded as a result.

The band has been able to take Dutch around the world, from Spain, Czechia and Slovakia to Indonesia, a former Dutch colony, where they play their music and put on workshops for students.

"In this project, all my passions come together: the language, the music and also the social factor of bringing people together. "I love it when it all comes together and we are all singing together when we can forget about life's problems and just be happy," Maes concluded.

The show will be performed in theatres and cultural centres throughout Flanders, as well as in Brussels and Louvain-la-Neuve, until September 2024. The full programme can be found on their website.

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Other stories from this week to make you smile:

1. 'Boundless cinema': Two-for-one ticket campaign puts Flemish films in the spotlight

A two-for-one ticket campaign has been launched for six Flemish films that will be released this autumn and continue to spring 2024, to highlight home-grown talent in the camera. Read more here.

2. Winner of 'Best Brussels Shrimp Croquette' 2023 awards revealed

The fourth edition of the croquette competition, organised by the regional tourist office, brought together 20 of the Belgian capital's finest eateries, with one Uccle-based establishment coming out top. Read more here.

3. First animal rescue unit for disasters officially launched in Belgium

The deadly 2021 floods in Belgium exposed the lack of structural rescue systems to climate-induced disasters, including how to assist animals. A new animal rescue team is hoping to tackle the issue. Read more here.

4. Two Tasmanian devils move into Pairi Daiza

The two young males, named Marvin and Merris, underwent a period of adaptation behind the scenes and can now be seen in the Australian world of Pairi Daiza, Cap Austral. Read more here.

5. Royal Military Museum celebrates 100th anniversary this weekend

The Royal Military Museum Brussels is celebrating its centenary this weekend, with activities for both children and adults in addition to reduced admission fees, prolonged opening hours and full access to all the galleries. Read more here.

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