Where my heart is: Dreaming of hometowns and childhoods

Local habits, neighbourhood rituals, common conceptions, regional dialects, childhood memories and city rivalries collide in this walk down memory lane with two Belgian rappers and a writer.

All visuals by Eva Donckers (c).

Boudy Verleye on Knokke

Knokke has a reputation. One of bourgeoisie, exclusive fashion, rich folk, expensive cars and luxury in general. Not something one would immediately link to hip hop culture, or at least not as a starting point. It’s hard to escape this while growing up in Knokke. As soon as I was aware of the prejudice linked to the city, I told my peers who weren’t from around here that I came from Westkapelle instead, a lesser-known neighbouring town – my parents’ place was actually on the border between both, which for me was an important nuance at the time. Now I don’t care about it in the same way anymore, but as a youth, it was different.

I often drove back home for a dive into the North Sea. It’d just put my mind at ease, and I still regularly do it.

My father and aunt – who are twins – run a street wear shop. That’s where I heard rap music for the first time. At home we weren’t allowed to watch television, so my first introduction into hip-hop was hearing Eminem playing in the store. I know that this might sound like something that has nothing to do with the influence my hometown has had on me and my work, but I do believe that it would have never happened in the same way somewhere else. I suppose you could call me a beach boy. As a teenager, I had a student job on the beach. I got up early, went over to the sea, arranged seats for the tourists, and when the day was done and everything was put away, my friends and I just hung out there, by the seaside, beers and music included. Moving away from Knokke did prove to be a pivotal moment for me though. When I was about 15 years old, I decided to go to art school, at Sint-Lucas in Ghent and it was a culture shock, to say the least. I came from a place where, even at the age of 18, I would have been made to stand in a row before going class. Literally standing in a row, waiting for the teacher to tell us to go to class. In Sint-Lucas everything was much more free.

It’s a little-known fact that Knokke has a strong surf culture. In fact, the library is currently hosting an exhibition called The Cult of Cool with, amongst others, photos by Angelo Demeulenaere (Belgium) and Tom Pohaku (Haiti), both world renowned board carvers. My father is an avid surfer, who you’ll often find on the waves after his working hours. I owe him all the credit for the title of my debut album, zolangmogelijk. One day, he told me about surfers training to see how long they could hold their breath for, because if you ever fell off, you’d be under water for a while. Hence the title, which literally means “as long as possible”. In the process of recording that album the sea played a major role. At the time I lived in Ghent, but constantly felt the need to escape the city, which is why I often drove back home for a dive into the North Sea. It’d just put my mind at ease, and I still regularly do it. Thinking about it now, I realise this might sound like a freaky thing to people who didn’t grow up close to the sea, but actually I would strongly urge everybody living in Belgium to head up to the coast. The sea is only a drive away and it’s well worth it.

After having won Studio Brussels’s “De Nieuwe Lichting” in 2014, Boudy aka Brihang went on to develop a solid reputation as a live performer.

Jozefien Van Beek on Leuven

I almost went to Krakow, Poland, after I decided to study literature. They have good literary faculties over there. I eventually ended up staying in Leuven, my hometown, shaking up in the many student housing spots dotted around the city. I believe a very important aspect of growing up involves leaving your childhood home. And I was lucky enough to have parents who felt the same way. For its size, Leuven is a relatively vibrant place, with venues such as Het Depot, STUK and Cinema Zed all contributing towards the city’s cultural landscape. It’s a city that, to my own surprise, I’ve even come to defend. Indeed, I recently went to the Docville festival with some friends from Antwerp, who started ranting about the many students that are obviously omnipresent in Leuven, and I found myself stepping up to the cause. I mean, of course there are drunk students, and unfortunately on that exact day we stumbled upon an attempt to break the world record of largest cantus (an event that has student fraternities sing and drink beer together). Don’t get me wrong, I’m not too fond of vomiting students either, but you can easily avoid seeing that. It’s such a lame thing to bash a city.

What I appreciate about people who grew up in Leuven is the ease with which they travel around the country.

What I appreciate about people who grew up in Leuven is the ease with which they travel around the country. The larger the city, the lesser the need to explore other places I guess. We used to head to concerts and exhibitions in Antwerp, Brussels and Ghent all the time. Nowadays I live in Antwerp, which has always felt like a second home to me, ever since I started travelling there without my parents. I must’ve been around 14, and I loved visiting M HKA. Aside from that, moving here was a logical next step. As a freelance journalist I’m much closer to exhibitions, museums and the likes. I’m a city person, a culture person rather than a nature person, so I don’t see myself leaving Antwerp any time soon. There’s a social aspect to it too. Starting out as a journalist in Leuven, I couldn’t stay late at openings for instance as I always had to catch the last train home. Now I can stay as long as I want, and it’s much easier to meet artists and other people involved in the cultural field in general – quite often in bars. Things tend to get more informal like that.

Antwerp has also become the hometown of Oogst magazine. Everyone, except Frederik Willem Daem (who moved back to Brussels recently), lives here. More important than Antwerp or Leuven however is Paris. Frederik and I met there at the DeBuren residency program. Without Paris, Oogst would have never existed. My parents didn’t raise me in dialect, and later on I never learned the Leuven dialect either. But I do have some sort of a Brabant accent, and that is why I bonded with Frederik in Paris that quickly. He has his Brussels accent and I have my Brabant way of speaking, which was of course very different from the many Dutch participants of the residency program. The influence of a hometown or home region often lies in language.

Born and raised in Leuven, freelance journalist Jozefien currently spends most of her time in Antwerp as editor-in-chief of Oogst, a magazine about visual arts, literature and film.


Ledé Markson on Liège

To me, Liège is Belgium’s true capital because of its history. Brussels is so much younger. I’m very proud of my city’s history. There’s still some debate amongst historians, but supposedly (and there’s a big chance) Charlemagne was born in Liège. When walking around here, you can easily feel Liège’s history. Things are really old here. But I feel that this antique vibe does give Liège a solidity. My city is not a lightweight. My mentality is worldwide, but my hometown, the place where I come from, always resonates throughout. For instance, when I pass by the Saint-Pholien church, I think of George Simenon who was born here, near Place St. Lambert. Le Pendu de Saint-Pholien is one of the books in his Maigret series. Not to say that I’ve read all of his books, but I find it pretty cool to know things like that. I’ve been watching interviews with him on Youtube, and he also said that he took part of his hometown with him anywhere he went. I feel exactly the same. The city influences me as a whole.

This antique vibe does give Liège a solidity. My city is not a lightweight.

It’s not just its buildings, but the people and the scents too. Liège has a dirty character. Un peu malsain, unhealthy. People get stuck here, so they’ll be out drinking and partying while trying to forget that there’s actually not that much going on over here. I believe the majority of people hang around here because it feels like a village. For me personally, it can feel suffocating at times. But for others, it’s comfortable, I suppose. I don’t go to Le Carré (the nightlife district of downtown Liège) as much as I used to. All that partying doesn’t do much for my productivity and makes me lose my focus. The Meuse river is also an important element of Liège for me. I could never live in a city without some form of water flowing through it. The first three years of my life I lived on the other side of La Meuse, what locals here refer to as Outremeuse. My father, when he would go to the centre, he’d say “I’m going to Liège”, as if it was a different city far away. But all he had to do was cross a bridge.

Back in the days though, Outremeuse was the place where poor people lived, because of the river’s tides. Nowadays, I have the impression that it is slowly gentrifying. It’s a much more relaxed, quiet part of Liège. Even up to this day there is an organisation called La République Libre d’Outremeuse that defends the Outremeuse folklore, inviting people to discover this part of Liège, and specifically Tchanchès who is known for drinking too much Peket. Liège Toxity is what the previous generations used to call it. People my age don’t use that term anymore, but it’s true, everybody here has at least once seen somebody use heroin, out in the open, in the streets, not even trying to hide it. In other places that is a rare thing to see, over here it’s quite common. On the last EP I mention “Un Liégeois ça se boit pas“. Un Liégeois is a local drink, a mix of Orangina and grenadine syrup. By mentioning that, I’m sticking to my roots. I’m done with using the city itself as a topic, though. That being said, I do feel like an ambassador for Liège at times. Some of my lyrics are near impossible to explain to somebody who has never lived here, but local listeners get what I’m talking about. But I think I’ve said what I had to say about Liège. As much as I love my city, it’s time for me to tell other stories in my music now.

Ledé Markson (formerly known as Le Dé) shows us around the city of Liège as we meet up with the rapper days after he released his latest EP Napalm.