Brass bands, or fanfares as they are known, have been named as immaterial cultural heritage in Flanders, and included in the register maintained by the region.
Brass bands made up of amateur musicians are an integral part of the local cultural life in towns and villages all over the region. At the last count there were more than 300 – more than the number of municipalities — making up a musical community numbering thousands.
“People sometimes still have the image that the village fanfare that sits in a café and plays oompah music is still alive and well, whereas we do a lot more than that,” said Bavo De Paepe of KFO Volksopbeuring Massemen in Wetteren in East Flanders, interviewed by the VRT.
However the groups struggle to escape from that old-fashioned image.
“We really try to put the bands on the map by taking part in competitions and playing concerts at a high level. It really isn’t just a matter of travelling fanfare at village fetes.”
The fanfare is a band made up of brass instruments, augmented by saxophones and percussion, which had its beginning in the Low Countries. The saxophone, invented by the Belgian Adolphe Sax from Dinant, was quickly snapped up in the 19th century as the perfect instrument for such a band, being as portable as a woodwind but with the tone colours of a brass instrument.
The movement now hopes the recognition of the government will help in the recruiting of new, younger members.
“The image may not be so sexy, but we are trying to work on it,” admitted De Paepe. “That is why this recognition as heritage is a great chance to put us back on the map.”