The Leuven Hundreds

Portraits of a city's people, today

We’ve joined forces with Leuven to highlight 100 local people, places and projects that contribute towards making the city what it is today. From artists and architects to producers and professors, these are the driving forces powering Leuven forward one ingenious initiative at a time.

Jo Zanders

Jo Zanders

Instrument builder and percussionist (1975)

Can you describe what you do?

I’m a freelance instrument builder and percussionist, living in Ridderstraat with my girlfriend and our two daughters. My woodwork shop and drums stock are located in Batiment A, just a few streets away. I play folk music with KV Express, Dutch roots music with Veston, and children’s music with Zannemie; but what I do most is play raw and energetic percussive street music on D.I.Y.-drums with Velotronix, LKMTiV or Alackadaisical. Apart from performing, I do what people would call teaching – but I feel it’s too much of a one-way concept. I think it’s important for musicians to share what they know and learn from other people, regardless of whether they’re amateurs, professionals, children or adults.

How do you perceive Leuven?

It’s a small and cosy city, rather clean and tidy; a bit highbrow at first, but after living here for many years it’ll start to feel like a village where you know a lot of people. The locals are rather open-minded and positive, but this is a very subjective view of course. It’s a great city for raising your kids.

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

The rather small-scale of Leuven is a big advantage. You can do everything by bike – and if you can haul some cargo on your two-wheeler, you don’t even need a car at all. And because of its very central location in Belgium, you can reach almost anywhere rapidly by train or car. So neighbouring cities like Brussels or Antwerp really are just around the corner.

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

Like many locals, I first came to Leuven for my studies; from the far edge of Limburg to what was in my eyes a “big city”. Since then, both my social and professional networks are rooted in Leuven, which I’m very happy about.

There’s not a lot of room for really autonomous cultural zones – everything is too well planned and monitored.

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

There’s not a lot of room for really autonomous cultural zones – everything is too well planned and monitored. In Brussels, you have spaces like Recyclart or Les Ateliers Claus. These are things I would love to see in Leuven, but I fear that our city is too small and expensive for those kind of places.

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

I would take my visitors to the Brusselsestraat market on a Saturday morning, where you’ll find some very excellent local producers with fresh foods. We would definitely go pay a visit to De Sax, an old-school record store, specialising in world music and second-hand discs, where the owner can tip you on some of the latest records once he gets to know you and your tastes. Weather permitting, we would go for a picnic in Park Abbey: a near-secret garden with a beautiful view over the city and an 80-year-old apple orchard. If it’s November I would for sure bring a camping stove to bake some fresh apples – yes, you are allowed to harvest them. In the evening we would stop at Leuven Central, my favourite drinking hole with a diverse mix of people.

A local legend, neighbourhood anecdote or urban myth that, to you, encapsulates the spirit of the city?

Our garden is actually on a steep slope that goes up to Park Abbey. In 1845 they started digging a railway tunnel that would go from Engels Plein to Edingen, underneath the Abbey. The project was never completed, but they stopped somewhere in our backyard.….