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.

Sami Abdou

Sami Abdou

Artist manager at Top Notch (1991)

Can you describe what you do?

I work for the Belgian division of Top Notch, one of the biggest music labels in the Benelux. My job varies from project management of Belgian artists to promoting Belgian and Dutch artists. I have always been active in the urban and hiphop scene, from listening to artist to my work behind the scenes now. I work with successful acts like Lil Kleine, Kraantje Pappie and De Jeugd Van Tegenwoordig, but also local talent from Mechelen like Soul’Art, Bouzzy and Zwartwerk, and SLM from Antwerp.

I’ve lived all over Mechelen because my parents were divorced and we moved around a lot. Nowadays, I live in Antwerp.

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?

Mechelen is a quiet and easy-going city. During the week there isn’t that much to do, but I think that’s how they like it there. During the summer, the city really comes to life because so many events and parties and festivals are organised.

Over the last few years, it’s almost like the inner city has had a facelift done, and I think the renovation project for the station site will make the city even more spectacular and attractive to outsiders visiting the city. I am really looking forward to that happening, because after all, for visitors arriving by train, the station is the first thing they will see.

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

In many ways, Mechelen has grown and changed a lot, but its sense of togetherness has always been around, there is a real sense of unity which makes for a lively cultural scene.. We have citizens from all sorts of cultural backgrounds and religions, and a mayor like Bart Somers who brings them together. That’s definitely something I don’t see happening in other cities, like the one where I live now.

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

When I started making music, I soon made a name for myself within the local scene. I wouldn’t say I was famous, but I was definitely notorious. The city really taught me how to respect everyone, because we always had to stick together and fight for our own cause. Because of this, I became the self-made man that I am today. I will always work hard to achieve my goals, however hard it may seem. In my opinion, I have come a long way, and I have been able to build up a large network within the industry. I now want to use the experience and network I have to help a new generation of artists, to give them the support I never received.

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

There should more events for the students during the year. Other cities have more of a nightlife going on even during the week. This is something that I really feel Mechelen has to work on.

Also, the urban scene in Mechelen is very vibrant, but it could do with a lot more support from the city council, because right now, we aren’t really given the support we need to make the scene grow here in Mechelen. One urban project a year is simply not enough, we need a structure upon which we can build and work at the scene day by day.

To you, what is the best way to spend a weekend in Mechelen?

Good question! I would just take them for a walk on the Dijlepad along the water. I think that gives you the best taste of what Mechelen has to offer: a mixture of the traditional culture and a modern vibe. To me it is simply the most beautiful thing in Belgium.

For lunch, I would go to the Vismarkt, and it would be even better if we had good weather so we could sit outside. There is one place that I recommend to everyone and that is La Boya, a Moroccan restaurant which I consider to be the best restaurant in Mechelen.

Wherever I go, I like to go for a walk without a plan and just see what happens along the way. Mechelen is not that big, so it is better to do everything by foot. So we would walk and just see what the day brings us.

Can you talk to us about a local legend, a neighbourhood anecdote or urban myth that, to you, encapsulates the spirit of the city?

My father, who passed away three years ago, is a local legend to me, but he was also very popular in Mechelen. He was one of the first immigrants in Mechelen, a very tall black guy who fought against racism by using his charm. It was hard not to like him, because he was really determined to get along with everyone and he was always the bigger man, something which he passed on to me. My father is a local legend and legends never die.