From big names to newcomers, these are the 25 most prominent figures and collectives shaking things up in Belgium this year. Whether they visibly made their mark and established themselves in their respective field, gave back considerably to their scene or sparked debate by shining a light on a certain issue, consciously or otherwise, these are the people that deserve a mention this year. Make sure to check out Part I and II here.
Pierre Kompany for being Belgium’s first black mayor of sub-Saharan African origin
It’s been a long time coming – so long in fact that it would not be far-fetched to assume that most of us were shocked to find out that it’s only in 2018 that Belgium is seeing its first ever black mayor of sub-Saharan African origin. And yet, over half a century after Belgium was forced to retract its claws from Congo, this is our reality. Pierre Kompany (1947), a young football-loving engineering student arrived in Belgium in 1975 as a political refugee, after having spoken out against the student massacre of 1969 and going as far as being imprisoned for over a year. He carried on his studies in Belgium, going on to work in and teach industrial mechanical engineering. It was only in 2006 that he decided to enter local politics, first joining his local Ganshoren’s PS party before deciding to set up his own party ProGanshoren six years later, more aligned with the cdH. This was when he became a municipal councillor, followed by alderman for all things public works, mobility, environment and cleanliness. Come 2014, he also joined the Parliament of the Brussels Capital Region on behalf of the cdH. Finally, this October saw his party win by a landslide: with a voter result six-fold of that of the last round, Kompany quickly went to work on providing more and improved housing for both seniors and youths. As one of the municipalities with the smallest and oldest population, Ganshoren has been experiencing an exponential growth in the last decade as more and more young people move in, enticed by the low rent. All fitting into his political motto: faire ensemble, samen doen.
Psst Mademoiselle for promoting nights with an uncompromising feminist resolve
In a time when diverse line-ups and intersectional bookings are becoming topics of interests in the social spectrum and yet still have a long way to go before becoming an absolute reality, Psst Mademoiselle entered the Brussels’ nightlife scene like a much-needed breath of fresh air. Spearheaded by Liège native Souria Cheurfi (1989) – and, incidentally, one of two editorial directors here at The Word Magazine – and local Lukas Tanghe (1990), these Brussels-based event promoters debuted their events at Kumiko’s basement venue last February with Blu Samu, Fatoo San and Young Mocro. Over the course of the year, they relentless and wholeheartedly hosted live performances and DJ sets by up-and-coming female artists on a monthly basis, spreading their feminine energy across the capital city: C12, Beursschouwburg and JAM hotel. Booking not only local talents – think Ana Diaz and Gurl to name a few – the duo also looks outside our borders for further inspiration. In fact, their last event saw budding MC Corella for her very first show ever, let alone in Belgium. And despite a strong R&B, hip-hop and house selection, Psst Mademoiselle has also expanded its musical horizons to electro-punk (Sweats) and nu-disco (Furor Exótica). Yet most intriguing perhaps is their communication execution: rather than push a women-only agenda or cater exclusively to a female audience, Psst Mademoiselle is all about spreading the good word all round through an inclusive and even matter-of-fact vocabulary. While their curatorial concept remains intact – to book talented women across a variety of scenes – the format is only getting bigger and better. They just celebrated their tenth edition at VK with Danitsa, Mahina and the Bledarte ladies on Thursday 29th November, and keep your eyes peeled for their one-year anniversary bash next March.
DVTCH NORRIS for hitting over a million views with Toothpick
Antwerp country boy DVTCH NORRIS (1993) first shared studio and stage times with his close friend Coely before finally releasing his debut solo EP I’m Sad, I Wanna Make It in May this year. If his EP had to be described in one word, it would be determination. Indeed, the young rapper quit school at 18, so it was all or nothing. He went for it, and it paid off. In addition to this six-track set, DVTCH dropped the video for one of ISIWMI’s lead singles Toothpick featuring Belgo-Argentinian singer Bhavi. Directed by Eloi Cyuzuzo Nsanzabandi and Aäron Beyers, the surreal clip shows both artists enjoying their simple life on a farm, spitting on the beat perched atop a tree or on a tractor and cracking jokes with goats in a barn – referring to his ambition of becoming a GOAT (Greatest of All Time). The beat is sick, his flow filthy, his acting skills on point and the scenario genius, with plenty of inside jokes and codes to decrypt. No wonder thus, that about 50 days after it was dropped, the video got more than a million views on YouTube. And the success story went on, with Ebro Darden – one of the most influential radio hosts at Apple Music’s Beats1 – premiering Toothpick on his show, allowing DVTCH to make his makeshift US debut. Clearly one on his way of becoming a goat.
019 for revitalising the contemporary art debate
Ghent-based artist collective Smoke & Dust embarked on their 19th project in 2013, occupying an abandoned welding factory at Dok-Noord. Funnily enough, this project simply titled 019 became so big in size and scope that it eventually engulfed the collective’s name itself. Though Smoke & Dust does still exist as a core organisation, this exhibition-cum-workspace came to be known by its adopted name, and so this initially temporary project continues to carry the torch for Ghent and Belgium’s contemporary art scene. Yet perhaps what is most exciting is their unlimited approach, allowing not only artists and photographers but also architects, graphic designers and publishers to become scenographers at 019. From numerous workspaces inside to flagpole installations and billboard affichages, this moving practice made up of an extensive team makes sure to appropriate all facades and mediums to optimum use, to ensure a wide and complete programme that never disappoints. In fact, this year alone saw an impressive work ethic, where exhibition after installation after artist talk after publication were churned out, all at an astonishing rate. One only need to think back to the Leo Gabin trio’s Real Estate presentation; or the group exhibition Sundays which assembled the likes of Martin Belou, De Cleene De Cleene, Kasper De Vos, Olivier Goethals, Sophie Nys, Dries Segers and Chantal Van Rijt to name but a few as evidence of its prolific output. Yet as if this weren’t enough, Smoke & Dust-slash-019 embarked on a new project alongside NUCLEO, the fellow Ghent-based organisation handling artist studios in the city: to renovate and update the Caermersklooster monastery. Together they make up the new collective named KUNSTHAL GENT, which envisions to create a new exhibition and meeting place for the visual and fine arts. Since starting works this June, the former provincial art centre has been turned into a building site in both its literal and figurative sense. As renovations take place, KUNSTHAL GENT took this pre-emptive phase as an opportunity to invite a whole roster of experts and actors from the museum, curation and arts worlds – think Eastside Projects Gavin Wade or KUNSTHALLE São Paulo’s Marina Coehlo – to explore what the future art centre and gallery should look like. Come January 2019, Caermersklooster will be opening its doors to unveil a brand new space, name and programme.
Thomas Dermine for bringing jobs back to Charleroi
Late 2016, Caterpillar announced the pretty devastating news that it would be closing its major production site at Gosselies, a key source of employment for the Charleroi region. In a hasty response, the Walloon government assembled a group of experts to define and obtain “strategic axes” to improve Carolo, and by extension Walloon employment growth. The resulting plan for acceleration lead to the creation of CATCH Charleroi, short for Catalysts for Charleroi, operating within the interstices between the public and private; local and regional. Within this newly-formed body is the Delivery Unit: a public utility start-up responsible for supporting and monitoring the implementation of the grand CATCH plan by local actors. And with this grand goal of accelerating the workforce in Charleroi, there’s no better candidate than Thomas Dermine (1985) to lead the way as the head of the very young and dynamic team. The ULB and Harvard graduate is well-versed in the art of empowering workforces, having previ- ously worked in private nancing of public welfare, combatting adult recidivism. In just a year since taking on his new role, Dermine and the Delivery Unit are already delivering their promises across their four identified sectors, with the cherry on top being in getting the Chinese firm Thunder Power to take over the Gosselies site, which in the end was only unoccupied for two years. With two more years to go in their three-year timeline, things seem to be looking up for Charleroi and Wallonia, proving that private capital and venture can be used for the public good.
Cécile Djunga for standing up to racism
Cécile Djunga (1989) has been a weather forecaster at RTBF for about a year. One day in September, her colleagues told her they got a call from a viewer saying that she was “too dark to be on TV”; that all they could see on screen was her outfit, and that she should be told all this. As a comedian, Cécile Djunga decided to post a video denouncing what she experienced with humour, because that’s the way she usually handles it – with a smile on her face. However, as she started telling her story, the young woman broke into tears: “Now I’m over it. I decided I should say it, because too many people think there’s no racism in Belgium. It’s not true. So I will talk about it. I will denounce it. I will say it.” In less than 24 hours, her video got more than 600,000 views, going viral on social media. It subsequently caught the attention of mainstream media and she was invited by numerous TV programmes to share her story. Unfortunately, the media attention she got was a double-edged sword, as Djunga got a lot of supportive messages, but also racist ones, even harsher than what she already had to deal with. RTBF has decided to join Djunga in her battle by opening a case and dissecting all the racist messages. Indeed, although social media is a nest for ugly opinions, it is not anonymous. By sharing her experience with the public, the presenter showed that we still have a long way to go when it comes to combatting racism in our country.ceciledjunga.com
ONKRUID for daring a new kind of festival
The Leuven-based collective ONKRUID are loved for having brought HORST – their weekend-long love affair of electronic music and stage design architecture – to the festival scene. Yet despite another successful edition (and incidentally, their last as they embark on a new format for 2019), the young, interdisciplinary team’s commitment to all things social and urban development kept us on our toes this spring with the launch of another, brand-new festival-cum-summit. An initiative of Leuven MindGate – a vast platform made up of private companies, academic or research institutions and the City of Leuven – and& offered four days of cutting-edge talks and interventions, all involved in the former’s core axes of health, high-tech and creativity. Curated by Boondoggle cofounder Pieter Goiris, Leuven MindGate and ONKRUID brought together the cream of the crop – from experts and academics to thinkers and artists – to collectively imagine the possible cities of the future. Yet more than just offering a top-notch programme for this smart city-esque summit, and& exceeded itself by providing an excellent music programme of both local and international names from the electronic music scene, helping it distinguish itself from other somewhat stuffy research summits. Firmly helping to cement Leuven’s position as a leading global contender in the health and innovation world.onkruidonkruid.com
Gilles Helsen for bringing a fresh narrative to STUK’s programming
If STUK Re-Start, the 36-hour festival marathon ringing in the new season at STUK was anything to go by, the rule-bending Leuven-based arts centre has a promising future ahead of it. And it’s largely thanks to their newly hired music programmer Gilles Helsen (1990): appointed since May, the young Geel native has been working steadfast to fill up not only the concert bill but also a concise and pertinent sound art productions. A KUL and Sorbonne graduate in musicology and musician himself – Helsen plays keys for the jazz electronic trio SeizoensKlanken –, the Antwerp-based music lover has been looking to add his own air to an already strong and consistent roster of events. Together with his dance programmer colleague Charlotte Vandevyer, they both are looking to surpass the sound, performance and visual art-crazy centre’s already notable reputation by adding their keen curatorial focus and eyes for detail. Just think of the Beyond Music series of sound performances, which saw amongst many others STUK’s resident artist Aya Suzuki’s reinterpretation of Tom Johnson’s Nine Bells; her take on the notions of the visual, the corporal and the spatial. Or the end-of-year live show with Tomoko Sauvage, the Paris-based SHAPE artist who’s been delighting the electronic music scene with her Curved Water performance. Another key highlight for the upcoming season is Helsen’s Babylon Bar series, inviting “hybrid live acts without boundaries” to the centre stage, concentrating on the crossovers between the art of improvisation and global sounds. Debuting in December, it’ll be kickstarted by Belgo-Tunisian trio Ammar808 and Mancunian Paddy Steer.