Numerous artists have fallen under Brussels’ spell and contributed to its musical heritage. They might all seem, at first glance, to come from completely different worlds, but they have one thing in common: they all love Brussels.
Some are as synonymous with the Belgian capital as cycling legend Eddy Merckx, surrealist master René Magritte and pioneering Art Nouveau architect Victor Horta. Some might not be as well-known to international audiences. But they’re lives and work have played a huge part in shaping the city’s culture and the identity of its inhabitants, and for that alone, they should be celebrated.
Discover these musicians and some of the songs that have eternally bound them with the European capital. It’s time for you to add some Brussels classics to your music library!
Jacques Brel « Bruxelles »
Jacques Brel is arguably Brussels’ most famous son and one of the icons of the ‘Chanson Française’ genre. Born in Schaerbeek in 1929, he was a proud Brussels native and performed in both French and Dutch, elevating himself to national treasure status in the process.
“Bruxelles” is one of Jacques Brel's most emblematic hits. Released in 1962 on the Les Bourgeois album, it describes Brussels at the beginning of the 20th century and evokes several places in Brussels.
Did you know?
No need to search the city for Place Sainte-Justine, it never existed. The verb “Bruxeler” is a neologism invented for this song.
In 2017, a statue of “Le Grand Jacques” - as he's known - singing with open arms was erected on Place de la Vieille Halle aux Blés. It was created by the Belgian artist Tom Frantzen who also created the city’s famous Zinneke-Pis and Vaartkapoen statues.
Dick Annegarn « Bruxelles »
The name Dick Annegarn may not ring any bells at first, but you may well have heard one of his biggest hits, “Bruxelles, ma belle”. Released in 1974, Dick Annegarn’s hit evokes Brussels as a mistress he yearns for.
Did you know?
After the terror attacks of 2016, “Bruxelles ma Belle” became an anthem of support for the victims. Daan first performed it alone on 22 May 2016 and then alongside Dick Annegarn, in 2017, as an homage to the victims. Also in 2016, Brussels pop star Angèle performed her own version of the song.
Dick Annegarn often states in interviews that the song wasn't really about the city, but about a man called Michel whose first name is mentioned in the second verse. It was a nod to the Beatles' song “Michelle ma belle”.
Arno « Brussels »
Arno and Brussels share a long-standing love story. Born in Ostend, this crooner sings in French, Dutch, English and even sang in Ostend dialect for the 2007 Belgian film “Ex-Drummer”, making him the perfect ambassador of a united Belgium. His hit “Brussels”, showcases the artist’s irony and his drive to shake up stereotypes while uniting people: “Let's sing this song for Linda, Mustapha, Jean-Pierre, Fatima, Michel and Paul, The brain of God, les flamands et les wallons, You and me and Mr Nobody…”
Did you know?
In 2017, he was made an honorary citizen of the City of Brussels. The city’s then Councillor for Culture said of him: “Arno is an artist who loves Brussels and shows it. When Trump attacked us and called our capital a "hell hole", Arno addressed the American president in an open letter. He carries the city in his heart and is a perfect example of Brussels' humour and hospitality."
Roméo Elvis Ft Caballero « Bruxelles arrive »
In the spring of 2016, Roméo Elvis - elder brother of pop star Angèle - released “Bruxelles arrive”. Meant as a teaser for a concert in Paris with his friend Caballero, the song announced his arrival as a star of the burgeoning Belgian hip-hop scene. He has since gained international recognition with his third studio album Chocolat reaching number three in the French album charts. “Bruxelles arrive” was evidence, if ever it was needed, that despite Brussels and Belgium’s comparative size, it is more than capable of holding its own on the international stage.
In an interview for Belgian magazine Moustique, he declared: “The idea was to produce a song in reference to the French capital. [...] It went viral pretty quickly, which wasn't expected at all. You can feel a before and after-Bruxelles arrive that really launched me. We're trying to take advantage of this launchpad to move things forward so that it's not just a fad.”
In 1976 a young Johan Verminnen sang “Brussel” at Antwerp’s Sportpaleis arena, accompanied by jazz legend Toots Thielemans. His love for Brussels is clear, as can be seen from songs like “In de Rue de Bouchers” and his performance of 'Van Brussel naar de Wereld" (From Brussels to the World).
He would often travel into Brussels from his hometown of Wemmel, just outside the capital. Discovering the city's many cultures made him the man he is today. The song therefore gives you a nostalgic retrospective, sparing no detail.
Did you know?
Johan started his career in a band with another famous Brussels musician Raymond van het Groenewoud, who wrote the 1981 hit Brussels by Night. It describes a nocturnal wandering through the capital, evoking Brussels with a striking charm. The lights, the noises, the hangover, it’s all there. Two years after the release of Brussels by Night, a Belgian film of the same name hit theatres. Raymond van het Groenewoud composed the film’s entire soundtrack.
Annie Cordy « Annie Paris, Annie Bruxelles »
Every Brussels local knows Annie Cordy. Born in Laeken in 1928, this multi-talented actress and singer played in over 50 films, recorded over 700 songs and her French version of “The Ballad of Davy Crockett” was number 1 in France for 5 weeks. Her song “Annie Paris, Annie Bruxelles” reminisces about the Manneken-Pis, taking the tram to the famous Place de Brouckère, eating Belgian chips and her home commune of Laeken, a stone’s throw from the King’s palace.
Did you know?
In 2018, Brussels celebrated Annie Cordy’s 90th birthday by naming a park after her. Located in the commune where she was born, the park is decorated with a mural of her by Brussels artist Pierre Coubeau.
Zwangere Guy “Brussels State of Mind”
Another exponent of the new wave of Belgian hip-hop, Zwangere Guy came to fame in 2017, becoming the unofficial “spokesman for the streets”. This talented street poet writes about the obstacles and hardships faced by youngsters in the capital, and his music unites the capital’s linguistic communities.
In his song “Brussels State of Mind”, Zwangere Guy praises Brussels’ simplicity and authenticity. The song title was a nod to 'N.Y.'. State of Mind' from Nas' legendary album 'Illmatic.
Did you know?
In an interview with BRUZZ in 2017, He spoke about his love for Brussels: “People used to look to France, the United States or the Netherlands, whereas we focus on a city that many people in Belgium hate. But we love Brussels. It's a city where you can be free. Some people say we can't do anything right here, but we make the most of it. When we have a common love, it doesn't matter if we speak Dutch or French”.