The Mechelen Hundred

Portraits of a city's people, today

Nestled between Brussels and Antwerp, Mechelen has often been overshadowed by its larger neighbours. Yet teaming up with the City of Mechelen, our line-up of 100 of the city’s most prominent people, places and projects proves the extent of its potential. From artists and creatives to critical thinkers and fighters, these are the powerhouses driving Mechelen forward one step at a time.

Giovanni ‘Panda’ Manissa

Giovanni ‘Panda’ Manissa

Rapper "Kilow" of Zwartwerk (1992)

Can you describe what you do?

I am a musician, primarily in the rap crew Zwartwerk. A couple of years ago, we were selected for Studio Brussels’ ‘Nieuwe Lichting’, and immediately after that we got the chance to play at the Maanrock festival in Mechelen. A great honour, because Mechelen really is my home base: I work here, I produce and record music here, my family and my best friends are here, and this is where I can chill out. Mechelen is the place to be!

I moved here with my family from the Netherlands ten years ago. I must say I immediately felt at home here, so it was an easy decision to stay here. Nowadays, I live in Berkenhof near the Vrijbroekpark, in the south of Mechelen.

How do you perceive Mechelen? In your view, what kind of city is it? Its people, its cultural landscape, its vibe? How does it compare to other, similarly-sized cities?

As far as my neighbourhood is concerned, it is the best place ever! We have the perfect mix of immigrants and native locals. I never hear any complaints from anyone, it seems both communities get along really well here.

What would you say is Mechelen’s main appeal as a city? What gives it its edge?

I think it’s the respect for the variety of cultures that live here, I get a friendly hello from everyone and never get any mean looks. People just help each other out, even if they don’t really know each other that well. For me as an immigrant, this was incredibly important. It’s hard enough to start a new life in another country without having to cope with prejudices.

Also, it is one of the cleanest places I’ve ever seen. Almost every day, there’s someone cleaning up litter in my street! I think that’s really good because it’s important for kids to have clean streets to play on.

How has Mechelen contributed to making you who you are today? What role has the city played in shaping your outlook and career?

Making it as an artist is never easy, but Mechelen was definitely the place where I started taking my craft seriously. I started hanging out at the youth centre ROJM, and it proved to be the ideal starting place for a young artist like me. You can rehearse and perform there, you meet other like-minded people…

Mechelen is also where I made my first professional contacts, and did my first recording sessions. All our hits were written and recorded here as well.

On a personal level, what would you like to see more of in the city? What could it do better?

Maybe we need some more events that really showcase the local artists in Mechelen. We could also improve on the infrastructure for musicians to have a place to work on a creative basis. ROJM is great for people starting out, but for more established artists, it’s hard to find the right facilities.

If you had to take out-of-towners to one place that truly symbolises the city, what/where would it be?

I think everyone should see the youth centre ROJM, because it’s incredible what they achieve there, and they are amazing at helping out young people. I’m also really curious about the upcoming new railway station, the plans are looking good!