Tuesday, April 18, 2006

doing the splits

Settled In Shipping discusses Canada's linguistically-divided music scene and aks if similar things happen elsewhere. They certainly do! There are two aspects: Belgian and European.

First, within Belgium, there are the French-speakers and the Flemish-speakers (and the Germanophones, but noone really cares about them... sorry, guys). I go to jazz concerts on both sides of the "linguistic border" regularly and audiences tend to be mono-lingual. I speak both languages, but Walloons tend not to speak Flemish. Historically, Flems have spoken pretty good French (perhaps a legacy of French having been the language of the aristocracy), but that's slipping in favour of English. Brussels, even though it's 80% francophone, is slightly more mixed, in places such as the Beursschouwburg or the Ancienne Belgique (both of which are Flemish-leaning in terms of administration), for example. The biggest summer festivals (and there are a lot per capita) attract mixed crowds, I think. My impression is that the pop/rock audiences don't cross over that much, but I don't know too much about it. I remember Hooverphonic, who are Flemish, extremely well-known, international stars and sing in English, drawing blanks at a multi-act open-air show in Brussels a few years ago. That might have been because it was mainly a hip hop crowd, though. In jazz the division is less pronounced, thankfully, though still sometimes felt, in terms of getting gigs in the part of the country you're not from. Finally, Flanders seems to have a stronger network of subsidised cultural centers and organisations.

Second, on the European level, national scenes are fairly hermetic. It's very difficult for non-French (or non-American non-stars) to get gigs in France. It's somewhat easier if there's a French musician in the band. There is relatively little in the French press about musicians from other European countries, unless they're based in France (eg. Aldo Romano, Stefano Di Battista) or are huge (eg. Enrico Rava, Tomasz Stanko). The UK and German scenes are pretty isolated, apart from a few totemic (generally free jazz/improv, or the WDR Radio Orchestra) figures and I don't expect to hear or read about any Portuguese musicians, no matter how many great records Clean Feed puts out. It's all kind of fragmented, but perhaps not more so than the various regional scenes in the US, relatively speaking, if you factor in the various language barriers. The situation may actually be similar to that of movies: the French go to see French and American movies, and the occasional Hugh Grant film.

Well, those are my impressions, but I stopped reading the jazz magazines some years ago.