Brussels according to Johan Verminnen

Article published on June 9, 2010
Article published on June 9, 2010
Johan Verminnen is known - especially in Flanders - as a Brussels singer and writer. From songs like 'Brussel' and 'Rue des Bouchers' we learn about his love for Belgium's captial. But Verminnen also reckons with the "social aspects" of his career as a singer/songwriter. For years, he promoted a statute for artists with Zamu, the former interest group for Flemish singers.
Next to that, the versatile musician is also commited to helping preserve and promote the Brussels dialect. This year, he therefore earned the title 'Brussels inhabitant of the year', together with his good friend or better yet 'copain', Julien Vrebos, another famous 'Flemish' person in Brussels. Cafebabel Brussels talked to the figurehead of Dutch music about his carreer, his city and his recently acquired title.

Happy Days

Ever since 1969, already 41 years, Johan Verminnen has been on stage. And singing really is his cup of tea. Though very young - he was already playing in bands at the age of 9, he already knew exactly what he would grow up to become: a singer and/or actor. The now matured little boy from back then, still likes performing and being on stage best. But writing songs is also at the top of his favourite-things-to-do list, even though it's something "you really have to be disciplined about".

And next to songs, Verminnen also wrote 3 books. One about his mother, one about Brussels and one about Ostend, the city he refers to as "the extension of Brussels", the opposite of what his collegue Arno has to say about the two cities. And those two cities are, for that matter, the only two Verminnen loves. He himself, living in between. "I can see myself living in Ostend one day, but not the Ostend the tourists know. You can find everything there too. Only, in miniature."

With Zamu, Verminnen promoted a statute for Flemish singers and musicians for a long time. "Quite possibly the most beautiful thing I ever did," he says. "If a statute for musicians and artists in general, exists now, it is because of my initiative. Realized with the help of a lot of people, but if I did not push it as hard as I did, it never would have happened. I'm forever grateful to Frank Vandenbroucke (a politician), who also helped realize it." And even though the chansonnier has moved from Brussels to East-Flanders, as Managing Director of Sabam, he still spends every week day in Brussels. Ever since 2006, Verminnen works for this Belgian association of authors, composers and publishers. He's "the connection between the board and the direction."

"Brussels, c'est mon Amérique à moi"

Johan Verminnen was born in Wemmel, one of the seven 'suburbs' of Brussels. When moving to the city centre of Brussels, more specifically to Rue Dansaert, he entered a whole new world. "When you are born in one of the suburbs, that actually implies Brussels is part of your life. It's a way of escaping the social control of the village. I always say "Brussels, c'est mon Amérique à moi" (Brussels is my America). That actually comes from a Jacques Brel song." Verminnen always lived near Place St-Catherine. "Traditionally, this neighbourhood has always been a place where a lot of artists live, all sorts of artists."

According to Verminnen, Brussels is above all a city for the young. "When you are young, you should live in Brussels. It has dynamics," he poses. He himself likes going to Le Cirio most. "It's a historical place, with old garçons (waiters), real brasserie style. I love that."

"If you want to see Brussels live"

Johan Verminnen2 "Brussels may well be one of the most international cities in our country. When I was very young, I already came into contact with other cultures, with art, music, theatre and musea." According to Johan Verminnen, Brussels is a city "with a dazzling cultural life, that is even more dazzling today than ever before." Also, the "anonimity" you can experience there as an artist, he finds utterly charming. "I know a lot of artists that live in Brussels, Arno or Will Tura for example. You can just be yourself here, without attracting attention.''"

Intersection of the world, exuberant and unique

"I'm Flemish, born and raised in and around Brussels and at the same time I'm Belgian. Those three idenities, that are one identity for me, are the most common in Brussels. Why? This is where the language communities meet. And there aren't many quarrels here. There used to be, but not anymore." Johan treasures Brussels' qualities most. "You see, Brussels has something exuberant about it. It's an extraordinary city to go wining and dining and at the same time it's a city that swears by a strict 'live and let live' policy. It's an intersection of the world." In that respect he calls Brussels "unique in Belgium."

"An honour of the heart"

Every year, non-profit organization ARA!, a foundation promoting the Brussels dialect, organises ‘de weik van ’t Brussels’, 'The Week of the Brussels Dialect'. During that period, the foundation names someone 'Brusseleir van 't joer', 'Brussels' Inhabitant of the Year'. This year, at the 7th edition of the Brussels dialect week, its theme being 'En avant la musique', Verminnen was named Brussels' Inhabitant of the Year, together with his good friend Julien Vrebos. Why? "Because of who they both are. Because of their honesty and fondness towards Brussels and the Brussels dialect. They're not shy to profess their love for their language. Because they have been supportive of pro-dialect associations for years, and in particular of ARA!" That's what it says on ARA!'s website. "I'm very happy with this, especially because it's together with Julien. He's a real, pur sang Bruxellois. He has something very magnanimous and conciliatory about him and according to me, those are qualities of a Bruxellois. An honour of the heart," Verminnen thinks.

Johan Verminnen and Brussels will always be bracketed together. Wherever the singer resides, the city will always be part of him. The intersection of the world, exuberant, dynamic and unique. Anonimity and criminality: check! That's Brussels according to Johan Verminnen.

This Summer, Verminnen will start with a new tour through Flanders and the Netherlands, together with Willem Vermanderen. 'Songboek van mijn hart' (Songbook of my heart), is the name of the tour, which will last until Verminnens 60th birthday, the 22nd of May. Symbolically, the last performance will be given in his town of birth: Wemmel. For more information, you can always pay a visit to Verminnen's official website. .