Martin Longley enjoys Gentse Feesten in Gent, Belgium, July 17 & 18 2016
Even though, technically, the first Gentse Feesten was in 1843, its modern-day incarnation began in 1969, revolving around the Trefpunt folk café and local singer-guitarist Walter De Buck. From those modest beginnings, it’s now grown into one of Europe’s largest street festivals, requiring massive stamina over the course of its ten days of art, drinking, dancing and eating.
There are festivals within festivals, with three major music streams, nearly all with free admission. Trefpunt itself erects a stage on the street outside its premises, Missy Sippy holds a blues feast and Polé Polé takes over the prominent central position with a looming riverside stage. This well-entrenched organisation acts as a core draw for the hordes, concentrating mostly on Afro-Latin sounds. Grupo Fantasma (pictured below), from Austin, Texas, headlined on the fourth day, with three power-horns, one of them a hulking baritone saxophone, a set of timbales out front, drums, bass, guitar, guiro and multiple vocals. Their psychedelic cumbia quotes from Brazilian samba and US cop show themes, edging into NY salsa. Their version of the Talking Heads hit ‘Burning Down tthe House’ topped the set with the ultimate funk blow-out, heavily shunted into a Latin incarnation.
At the Missy Sippy club, a combo called simply Bash were in the midst of what was virtually a jam session, with two banjos, bass, guitar, two fiddles, embarking on the high-speed hoedown of ‘8 Dogs, 8 Banjos’. These locals did a fine Appalachian impersonation, with an incongruous washboard to boot, singing ‘Parchman Farm’ with harmonica circle dancing, then ‘Orange Blossom Special’ as an encore. It caught the midnight hour of drunken celebration perfectly.
At the heart of it all, the Trefpunt stage presented two African bands, back to back. Guitarist Dizzy Mandjeku, who played with Franco, led his Odemba OK Jazz All-Stars, recreating that spangled vibe. He sat to the rear of doubled trumpets and tenor saxophones, three singers, bass and skipping drums.
Mandjeku provided a time-jump back to those classic 1970s Congolese stylings, with a glorious guitar lattice, climaxing with a spirited version of Angélique Kidjo’s ‘Afrika’. Another guitarist, Oghene Kologbo, a Fela Kuti sideman, fronted his World Squad. They pumped out ‘International Thief Thief’, with further baritone saxophone action, two dancer/singers, and the leader sending out a series of extreme solo stings, climaxing this overloaded double bill, late into the firework-dripping night.
Read more live reviews in the next issue, out August 26