Spilar: We are Belgians, so we play Belgian songs

10 August 2021, 1:00

Spilar: We are Belgians, so we play Belgian songs

The Brno Music Marathon Festival will include a world music scene for the first time this year. In addition to the award-winning Bosnian singer-songwriter Damir Imamović and the female vocal group Kata from the exotic Faroe Islands, the group Spilar from Belgium will perform in the Biskupský dvůr venue on Saturday 14 August. Its first album Stormweere reached number eight on the World Music Charts Europe, the official partner of the scene and compiled by leading radio music writers from across Europe, last November. We interviewed Maarten Decombel, one of the founders of the group.

I’ve read that Spilar is a band of musicians with experience in various genres from classical to folk to jazz. So how did the group come about?

Spilar is a relatively new band. We were formed about two years ago, but it was the result of a two to three year process before the group crystallized into what it is today. There are five of us, but three of us have known each other for a long time because we have been playing together for fifteen years in another band called Snaarmaarwaar. That is mainly an instrumental group, which has in its repertoire both our own compositions and folk melodies from Belgium. For many years however we dreamed of doing more with songs, but we didn’t really know how to do it. Everybody knew Snaarmaarwaar as an instrumental band, so we thought about changing the name or starting a completely different project... And in the end we decided to keep the original trio, but at the same time to invent a new band based on it, playing and singing songs in the Flemish language, i.e. songs from the area where we live. When we were discussing exactly how to handle it, I thought of my younger sister, who has a very beautiful voice. So I suggested to my bandmates that I call her and invite her to a rehearsal. The very first time we met, it all fell into place quite naturally. We wondered how it was possible that we hadn’t thought of it before. For about a year and a half, the four of us searched for a suitable repertoire and tried out different possibilities. When we were almost done with the album, we realized that the songs lacked a rhythmic foundation, and that you can invite a guest drummer on a recording, but we couldn’t play live with four people this way. And so we invited a fifth member to join the band, jazz drummer Louis Favre.

If I understand correctly, you started working with your sister only in this band...?

Yes. We’ve really never worked together like this before. Of course, as children we sang or played together, for example at Christmas or at various family gatherings. Only once, when her best friend was getting married, my sister asked me to accompany her on guitar, she wanted to sing a few songs at the wedding. It was only then that I realized what a beautiful voice Eva had. But really – apart from some family celebrations – it was the first time we played together anywhere.

You both sing well, you and your sister, and you can apply it in doubles and solos. How do you decide who sings in which song?

This comes quite naturally. Most of the songs on the album were created by my sister and I trying to sing them together and trying to find the best way to sing each song. Only when we both liked the result did we bring the song to the band and then we worked on the arrangement with the other bandmates. In most cases, however, it was a deliberation between us two siblings as to whose voice was better suited to which song. Somewhere it was also decided by the theme of the song and its story, for which a female voice was more suitable.

In Spilar you play folk songs, your own original songs and song covers. Yet I feel like it all goes together. Did you have any boundaries at the beginning, where to go and where not to go?

The basic idea when choosing the repertoire was to select songs that are typical for Belgium and specifically for Flanders. With the trio Snaarmaarwaar, which I mentioned at the beginning of the interview, we played not only Flemish songs, but also English songs. And when we were performing abroad, for example in England, I thought it was a bit silly that I, a Belgian, was playing English songs to an English audience in England. That was the exact moment when I realized I should speak for myself. For example, it will never be interesting for me to hear a Czech band singing songs in English about what happened in England. I am interested in your Czech songs with stories that are typical of your country. So we decided that the basis of our repertoire would be songs from Belgium. Then came the second stage – deciding whether to go for folk songs or to write our own repertoire. In the 1960s and 1970s, several singers were active in Belgium and created a new standard for modern folk music and for songs in the Flemish language. They no longer sang about what happened in the 17th century, but focused on urban life or the political scene. In the end, we decided to combine all this and set our repertoire very broadly. So we wrote our own songs and we play very old songs from the 16th century, for example. And we also recorded an arrangement of a song by Jacques Brel, whose work is part of our Belgian code and in a broader sense fits into what we can call Belgian folk. This is how we gradually put together the “puzzle” of our repertoire.

With Jacques Brel, it’s clear to me that you know his songs from recordings. But what about folk songs? Where do you draw from?

On the album we have for example a very old song called Suver maecht. I remember this one from my childhood from a tape of Christmas songs our parents had at home. A Dutch singer sang it there. So it’s a Christmas song that my sister and I have associated with our childhood memories. Other compositions were found in old manuscripts. I live not far from Bruges and there was a collector there in the 1960s who used to visit old people and record the songs they remembered from their youth and which they had learned from their grandparents. He then wrote these songs down and published them and we drew from his collection. Other songs were found on recordings of folk groups that were active in Belgium in the 1980s or 1990s. So inspiration comes from all sides, for example from musicians who were active when we were just starting out. So it all arises very naturally.

You are a band from Belgium and you sing mainly in Flemish, often folk songs from Flanders. So do you consider yourself more of a Belgian or Flemish group?

That’s a good question, but the answer is very simple. It’s about language. You probably know that there is no Belgian language. We sing in Flemish. Belgium is divided into two parts, or more precisely three. Flemish is spoken in the north and French is spoken in the south in Wallonia. Between these two areas lies Brussels and then we have a very small area where German is spoken. It is true that, in a political sense, there is tension between the two main parts of Belgium, and people often talk about Belgium in this way. But when I say, for example, that I feel Belgian and Flemish, it is practically the same for me. The fact that three languages are spoken in Belgium and that it is actually made up of three cultures is a great asset for us.

I also asked because on your album you also have a French song Germaine...

We included this Walloon song on the album because it is simply beautiful and tells a powerful story. People think of Spilar as a Flemish band because we sing in Flemish, but it’s actually a bit more complicated than that. We sing mostly in the dialect of Ostend, and even people who live only forty kilometres from the area we draw from will not fully understand the lyrics of our songs. So I consider Spilar to be primarily a Belgian band and then a Flemish band, but for most listeners we will be primarily a Flemish band. But I still stress the one “package” of three cultures and languages that make up Belgium.

Your sound is mainly based on acoustic instruments like guitars, mandolin, mandola... But you also use synths and electronics. How do you manage to balance the acoustic and electronic components?

That’s a good question. It took us a lot of time; we were looking for a balance between the different instruments for maybe three years. And today we’re glad we didn’t rush it. When we were thinking about what our band would sound like in the end, we had a period where we didn’t see each other for three or four months. This allowed us to think things through carefully, and when we met again a few months later, I could say, for example: “We talked about this last time, but I’ve been listening to some interesting recordings in the meantime, and I think we could get some inspiration from them as well.” So it was a long and arduous process to find the perfect sound for us. It really took a long time, in some ways it was like what they call “slow cooking” – like putting ingredients in a pot and cooking them for four hours to get the flavours to distribute properly. After this slow and long process, our guitarist Jeroen, who was also the producer of the album, decided on the final form of the songs. Well, he was in charge of many important technical and musical decisions for the whole band. When we had different opinions on a matter, it was Jeroen who decided which direction the outcome would take. Often we were surprised and even delighted by the results.

More than a year has passed since the release of your debut album. Is there a new repertoire coming out?

The album Stormweere was released in April 2020, one month after the start of the global pandemic. So we have played very few gigs so far. Now the live playing is slowly starting, new inspirations are coming. For example, we recently gave a concert in a church in Belgium. And it’s while traveling to performances with my sister that we think about our new repertoire. We talk about what some of us have heard and what we could rehearse with the band. So it’s slow again, but I think in about two years we could start preparing the next album.

Maarten Decombel/ foto 



No comment added yet..

After the first successful concert of the Concentus Moraviae festival’s resident ensemble at the castle in Slavkov, the ensemble led by violinist Pavel Fischer expanded to include pianist Katya Apekisheva and on Sunday, 12 June, in the Great Hall of Mikulov Castle, presented an unknown face of the musical language of Hungarian composer Béla Bartók with his Piano Quintet in C Major. Along with Fischer and Apekisheva, the concert also featured violinist Markéta Janoušková, violist Diede Verpoest, and cellist Erich Oskar Hüttermore

Last year’s 100th anniversary of Gustav Brom’s birth still resonates on the domestic jazz scene. At the very end of 2021, a 4-CD set entitled “Gustav Brom – 100 Years” was released, offering a cross-section of the orchestra’s repertoire, from songwriting to jazz to intersections with contemporary classical music. Alongside this, an album charting the Brom Orchestra’s long-standing collaboration with Karel Velebný has also appeared on the same label (Indies Happy Trails). Radio editor, jazz musician, and teacher Jan Dalecký was one of the producers of both albums.  more

In its twenty-seven years of existence, the Concentus Moraviae International Music Festival has been held in a number of unusual and unique places. Sunday's program Homo Sapiens – The Story of Rhythm in Velké Meziříčí has the potential to be one of the most memorable concerts of the festival. On June 5, OK Percussion Duo musicians Martin Opršál and Martin Kleibl, together with guests and students Tomáš Javora and Kryštof Vašíček performed in the normally inaccessible premises of the New Synagogue, which has served as a center of affordable shopping for years. The concert was held in cooperation with the European Festival of Philosophy, the Jewish Community of Brno, and the town of Velké Meziříčí. At the same time, it was part of the project From the Shopping Center to the Cultural Communitymore

This year’s 27th edition of the international music festival Concentus Moraviae is still at the beginning of its almost month-long program, yet in terms of dramaturgy it is not holding back at all. After the opening featuring Argentinian and Uruguayan tango in Boskovice and Balkan music in Ivančice, the festival brought the Arcadia String Quartet to the atrium of the town hall in Kyjov on Thursday 2 June, where they performed the String Octet in C Major by Romanian composer George Enescu together with their friends from the Transylvanian Philharmonic Orchestra. In addition to the members of the quartet (violinists Ana TörökRăsvan Dumitru, violist Traian Boală and cellist Zsolt Török), there were also violinists Vlad RăceuValentin Șerban, violist Mihai Oșvat and cellist Ștefan Cazacu. The concert was held under the auspices of the Ambassador of Romania to the Czech Republic, H.E. Antoaneta Barta.  more

We met violinist Pavel Fischer at the Budějovická metro station in Prague, and on the way to the Dobeška Theater we managed to discuss his holiday in Italy. At the time, we were already working out the subtitle of this year's Concentus Moraviae festival “From Roots to the Future”. Next to Dobeška, where the Sklep Theater plays, is what we call the “woodshed”, where the Škampa Quartet has been rehearsing for thirty-five years. Pavel Fischer was a founding member of the ensemble which he left at a time when it was enjoying one international success after another. As he says, he was attracted by greater musical freedom and a quieter life. At Dobeška, after our interview, he had a concert with cellist Olin Nejezchleba and guitarist Norbi Kovács. We started with him, although our main topic was Fischer's residency at this year's Concentus Moraviae.  more

Brno musicians are talented in various genres, and they’re generally long-lived and vital individuals. This was resoundingly clear during the jubilee celebration of Mojmír Bártek, a teacher, composer, arranger, and above all a virtuoso trombone player. The jubilee concert, dubbed Mojda Bártek 80, was prepared by his friends under the direction of B-Side Band trumpeter and bandleader Josef Buchta. Despite the birthday boy’s open and (sometimes emotional) enjoyment of the two and a half hour program, he still remained an active participant of the entire musical production except for brief moments of rest. He performed as the author of many compositions, but above all as a player, trombone in hand and fully committed.  more

On Thursday 24 March, a Brno audience experienced a truly special evening. Director Břetislav Rychlík and his wife prepared a concert on the music stage of the Brno Municipal Theatre in support of Ukrainian artists who fled their country to escape the war. The evening was entitled “Common Roots” and sought to closer acquaint the audience with the similarities between the folk cultures of Ukraine and Moravia. During the evening's program, I could feel the general musical parallels in particular. Exceptional artists are able to pass such beauty onwards anywhere in the world.  more

The original programme of the Brno Philharmonic Orchestra’s third subscription concert, as part of the Philharmonic Orchestra series in Theatre II, promised to continue the originally scheduled Dvořák-Brahms dramaturgy line as interpreted by Elisabeth Leonská. However, of the intended programme for the evening of Dvořák & Brahms II, only Dvořák’s Symphony No. 4 remained. Because Elisabeth Leonská fell ill for the concerts on the 25th and 26th of February at The National Theatre Brno - Janáček Theatre, her place was filled by pianist Alexander Ullman with a performance of The Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in A minor by Edvard Hagerup Grieg. The orchestra was led by head conductor of the Brno Philharmonic Orchestra Dennis Russell Davies.  more

The long-delayed premiere of the composition The Basement Sketches by composer Michal Nejtek, whose performance was planned for June 2020 and which was commissioned by the Brno Philharmonic, was finally performed on Thursday 25 November at the Community Hall (Besední dům) venue. Together with the Cellar Sketches, the Variations on a Theme by Haydn in B flat major, Op. 56a by Johannes Brahms and Cello Concerto Op. 22 by Samuel Barber were played. In addition to Brno Philharmonic players, cellist Matt Haimovitz and pianist Nikol Bóková also performed. The dramaturgically varied evening, consisting of three distinctly different musical pieces of work and period contexts, was led by the ensemble’s chief conductor Dennis Russell Daviesmore

On Monday 22 November, the second concert of the Brno Contemporary Orchestra’s festive tenth season, entitled Kamenné mantry (Stone Mantras), presented compositions by Fausto Romitelli, Michal Rataj, Miloslav Ištvan and the recently deceased (well known to Brno audiences) Lithuanian composer Bronius Kutavičius. In addition to the orchestra itself, there were also soprano singer Irena Troupová, marimba player Martin Opršál and reciter Pavel Zajíc, who replaced Otakar Blaha in the programme. The concert, organised in cooperation with the Moravian Museum, was conducted by the artistic director of the ensemble Pavel Šnajdrmore

The work by the British composer Benjamin Britten forms an essential part of contemporary opera production. Worldwide, he is even the most frequently staged author born in the 20th century.  Peter Grimes, with a libretto by Montagu Slater based on a poem by George Crabbe, became the opera that set the course for Britten's next musical-dramatic works. And it is with the title Peter Grimes that the Brno National Theatre has opened the opera part of the 2021/2022 season. The story of a rough and tumble fisherman, whose two young apprentices die soon after each other and who as a result sails out to sea, where he sinks his boat and himself with it, had its Czechoslovak premiere in Brno in June 1947. Almost 75 years after, the story of a fishing village, resentment, cruelty and gossip is now coming to life again in the Janáček Theatre, directed by David Radok and with a musical score by Marko Ivanović. The title role was played by tenor Joachim Bäckström and the widowed teacher Ellen Orford, who found affection in Grimes, was portrayed by soprano Jana Šrejma Kačírková. This is not the first time that these two have met on stage together – it was with Mark Ivanović and David Radok that they had previously joined forces for the play Juliette / Lidský hlas (Juliette/The Human Voice). Jana Hrochová (Auntie), Andrea Široká (Niece), Tereza Kyzlinková (Niece), Svatopluk Sem (Balstrode), Jitka Sapara-Fischerová (Mrs. Nabob Sedley), Jan Št'áva (Swallow), Vít Nosek (Bob Boles), Petr Levíček (Horace Adams), David Nykl (Hobson), Jiří Hájek (Ned Keene) and Ivo Šiler (Dr. Crabbe) were also featured, along with the others.  more

Under the “cipher” 29/2 (reads as “Twenty-ninth February”) there is a band that was created for a bit of fun. They used compositional techniques that should not work in songwriting at all. It has united musicians who, by definition, perhaps can never understand each other. And yet the result is an album of very strong songs that, despite all the experimentalism, makes sense and works as a whole.  more

Yesterday, Visitors to the Brno City Theatre experienced the Czech premiere of the Broadway musical hit Pretty Woman. Directed by Stanislav Moša, this theatrical adaptation of the famous blockbuster highlighted the strengths of the movie. Until the break, the viewer is mostly laughing royally and having fun in this tale of a modern Cinderella, and then in the second half the impressiveness and lyricism of the whole title is especially pronounced.  more

For two consecutive Saturdays, visitors to the Olomoucké barokní slavnosti (Olomouc Baroque Festival) had the opportunity to listen to works by lesser-known composers whose music not only in many respects far surpassed the standard of the time, but whose fates were also closely linked to Olomouc.  more

One of the biggest attractions of this year's Olomouc Baroque Festival was the performance of the oratorio David by the Austrian composer Karl Ditters. It was the perfect opportunity to do so, after all – this year the work celebrates 250 years since its creation. Ditters composed the oratorio to a text by Ignazio Pinto in 1771 and in the same year it had its premiere at the castle of Bishop Philipp Gotthard Schaffgotsch of Wrocław on the Jánský Vrch (John´s Hill) near Javorník. In the musical production of violinist and artistic director of Volantes Orchestra Veronika Manová and conductor Ema Mikešová the oratorio was first performed in concert in Brno at the Church of St. Johns (4 August), then on 7 August in Podzámecká zahrada – a garden of the Archbishop’s Chateau in Kroměříž, and, finally, on 12–14 August in the Ambit and Basilica of the Visitation of the Virgin Mary on the Svatý Kopeček (Holy Hill) near Olomouc. The event of 12 August was the performance I visited. In addition to Volantes Orchestra, there were members of other ensembles – Arte dei Suonatori (PL), Il Cuore Barocco (SK), Musica Aeterna (HU) and Societas Incognitorum (CZ). In this aspect, this is another event from the series of concerts organised under the auspices of the festival which bring together musical ensembles from the Visegrad Four. However, there are also performers from other countries – Slovenia, Northern Macedonia and Great Britain. The solo roles were performed by: Doubravka Součková (David), Aco Bišćević (Saul, King of Israel), Helena Hozová (Jonathan, son of Saul), Jiří Miroslav Procházka (Abner, warlord) and Aneta Petrasová (Eliab, David’s brother). The concert was directed by Rocc; the choreography was designed by Sanja Nešković Peršin and costumes were rendered by Borjan Litovski.  more


The most ambitious, the most unrepeatable, and the most challenging to produce. This is this year's “Mozart's Children” festival, whose Gala Concert will take place this Sunday at the Janáček Theater. Nearly two hundred performers will appear on stage, with young talents from all over South Moravia outnumbering professional musicians.  more

Brno’s sacred history and present is presented by the Brno and its Temples project, organized by TIC BRNO in cooperation with the Bishopric of Brno, Christian parishes in Brno, the Jewish Community of Brno, and the Brno branch of the Jewish Museum in Prague. It includes guided tours and lectures about Brno churches and important personalities connected with the church, as well as the opportunity to visit 7 Brno churches. In mid-June, it will start with a concert with the Horňácko Music of Petr Mička.  more

The organizers of the Pop Messe festival will shorten their fans’ wait for the last weekend in July with the Druž Messe event. It promises a pair of warm-up concerts in Brno and Veselí nad Moravou. The bands B4 and Wczasy from Poland will perform at the Kabinet Múz.  more

The Ibérica Festival of Ibero-American Cultures will take place this year in Brno, Prague, Čechy pod Kosířem, and Zdounky. The nineteenth edition of the festival will feature several Czech premieres. For the first time in the Czech Republic, the main star of the gala evening at Brno’s Špilberk, flamenco guitarist Álvaro Martinete, will perform with dancer Coral Fernández, as well as Colombian singer with Caribbean roots Concha Bernal and the Catalan duo Magalí Sare & Sebastià Gris. This year’s festival will also feature the premiere of a poetic recital from Karel Čapek’s texts, A Trip to Spain, performed by actor Tomáš Hanák, accompanied by Petr Vít’s guitar and Verónica Roa’s dance. There will be dance and music workshops for beginners, advanced, and children.  more

The management of the Brno Philharmonic announces a vacancy for the position of Secretary of Artistic Operations. The possible start date is mid-August 2022.  more

The Czech Radio Endowment Fund and Czech Radio – Radiožurnál, in cooperation with the Endowment Fund of the Brno-born Magdalena Kožená, are launching a non-financial collection named after the favorite Czech musical “Kdyby tisíc klarinetů”, or “If a Thousand Clarinets”. The collection is intended for all child musicians for whom the purchase of a musical instrument is beyond the means of their family budget. The collection works on the principle of connecting donors and volunteers on the platform www.kdybytisicklarinetu.cz.  more

The next-to-last premiere of the 2021/22 season is Mozart's “The Magic Flute”. It will be directed by Miroslav Krobot. This unconventional presentation of the opera promises the audience a journey into space. The musical staging is led by Pavel Šnajdr. Title roles will be played by Jiří Sulženko, David Szendiuch, Petr Nekoranec, Daniel Matoušek, Martina Masaryková, Doubravka Součková, Jana Šrejma Kačírková, Andrea Široká, and others. Scenography by Andrej Ďurík.  more

Eight years after the release of their album Šero, which received both the Anděl and Apollo music awards, the Orff Brothers will release their new Song for Stefanie Sauer. You can hear it in concert in Brno, where the band will start their spring tour.  more

The Brno Philharmonic is holding a benefit concert for Ukraine this week. Proceeds from the entrance fee will go to the Vesna Women's Educational Association, which is now helping Ukrainian refugees. The evening will include Dvořák's Symphony No. 9 in E minor From the New World, conducted by Leoš Svárovský.  more

The City of Brno has announced that an agreement has been reached with the owner of the International Hotel, HIB DEVELOPMENT, a. s. If the agreement is fulfilled, the construction of the Janáček Cultural Centre (JKC) will not be a compromise, but will fulfil the vision of having a top concert hall in Brno and gaining a new high-quality public space in the historic city centre. The interrelated key documents, i.e. the exchange agreement, the artwork purchase agreement, and the cooperation agreement, were recommended for approval by the Brno City Council today.  more