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Fresh faces meet pioneers of hip-hop during Leuven’s big soul weekend
Remember the Soul Train line when all those fabulously dressed people on the American TV dance show strutted their funky moves between two lines of onlookers? Everyone had their turn, and now you, too, can take part in the Soul Train line as part of Leuven’s Half Oogst.
Flanders is awash in summer music festivals, but this weekend’s Half Oogst is totally free. And it’s a lot more than a music festival, with its soul vibe seeping into every activity, from the market, where you can buy the threads to look the part, to the stages that feature both young and long-established R&B and hip-hop musicians.
It’s the final event in Leuven’s Groot Verlof summer agenda of activities and is possibly the one that most fits with its vision: that you don’t have to leave town to have an awesome holiday. “We go out with a bang,” says Kris Peeters of Leuvenement.
Half Oogst – the name means “half harvest” and is another term for the 15 August bank holiday, which falls during the traditional harvest period – is spread across five squares and parks in Leuven, all within walking distance of each other.
The Grote Markt, between the city’s famously gothic town hall and Sint-Pieters Church, is transformed into the Soul Markt and is where you’ll find food trucks and drinks. Watching dance battles on Saturday and choreographed urban and hip-hop dance on Sunday.
Street artists will be stationed here next to giant white cubes, which won’t be white for long. They will transform them into all manner of graffiti art, and teach you how to wield a paint can yourself.
This is also where the Soul Train takes off from on Saturday night: A DJ in a Volkswagen van leads the lines of dancers, who take their turn moving to the middle of the lines to bust a move. But even if you don’t have moves, join in, says Peeters: “It’s essentially a long parade, and it’s really fun, everyone loves it. It’s one of the highlights of the weekend.”
From Coely to Grandmaster Flash
Take Naamsestraat from Grote Markt to either the Half Oogst for Kids at Sint-Donatuspark (known by locals as Stadspark) or to Hogeschoolplein, which is the official chill-out area. With a built-to-order pavilion, it is home to a bar and DJs all weekend. “It’s sort of our club within the festival,” explains Peeters.
As you head down Naamsestraat, however, you will be distracted by the Urban Market, where you can find retro clothes and jewellery, vinyl, vintage design and a barber ready to shave initials right into the back of your head.
But, you are saying, where’s the music? It’s on Oude Markt, around the corner from Grote Markt. On Saturday and Sunday, hip-hop, soul and funk musicians take to the stage, with the first day featuring young Belgian artists and the second the pioneers who inspired them.
Saturday’s line-up boasts the stars of Belgium’s current hip-hop Renaissance, including JtotheC, Amery, TheColorGrey, Stikstof and headliner Coely (pictured above). Every one of them has jumped into the limelight over the last couple of years, with a constant flow of club and festival dates.
On Sunday, you’ll find both Belgium’s first big hip-hop breakthrough, ’t Hof van Commerce (“25 years and still going strong,” says Peeters), and the world’s first: Grandmaster Flash. Now 60, the American hip-hop artist either invented or perfected several DJ techniques that are now standard, including scratching.
The easiest way to get to Half Oogst is by train; Leuven’s train station is a 15-minute walk to all the action. If you drive, the closest parking garage is Ladeuze, which is smack dab where you want to be. Parking Center is also very close by. If you park a bit further away, you and your passengers can take the De Lijn bus for free into the city by showing your parking ticket.
Photos: Soul Train courtesy Leuvenement, Coely/©Jesse Willems/courtesy Lokersefeesten