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  • Writer's pictureThe Sound Cafe

Belgian Band, Belcirque, Set To Release Highly Anticipated Third Album ‘La Grande Fête'

By Amelia Zimmatore. Photo Credit: Filip Verpoest.

La Grande Fête’ - the highly anticipated third album from Belgian band Belcirque – releases July 23rd, 2021. In what is a continually trying time the world over, Belcirque serves up the perfect tonic with their latest offering. An album teeming with sunny South American beats, heavenly harmonies, and tales that take you to another time and place. ‘La Grande Fête’ adds a Latin-American flavour to the already dizzying cocktail of Belcirque’s eclectic repertoire.

Born from high school friendships as a street-performing five-piece, Belcirque has blossomed into a must-see septet that has enthralled, excited and entertained crowds big and small all over Europe and even as far as South Korea! Such broad appeal is hardly surprising when considering the plethora of influences and genres the band embraces in their works.

The band has a highly collaborative nature, and with so many artistic minds at play, there is little wonder why Belcirque has such a distinct and utterly unique sound. That the band weaves together swing, folk, jazz, and barbershop influences with African grooves and North American Blues is a testament to the sheer talent in their hands and passion for music in their hearts. Add a slight sheen of South American sunshine, and you have…

‘La Grande Fête’ – ‘The Big Feast’ in English – is a wonderfully apt title. The collection has a whole lot to tuck into and offers up a bevy of beautifully crafted songs and stories that explore and reflect upon life, love, adventure, and understanding one another as well as oneself.

Storytelling is at the very heart of the band’s work. Through a narrative or evocative lyrics, each song bares its own soul to give something to the listener, be it honesty, positivity, or a healthy dose of humour. Whether you find yourself on the salty shores of ‘Pontos’ or surrounded by the golden sunset of ‘Hora D’ora’, the journey through ‘La Grande Fête’ is a delightfully immersive experience. It is easy to sense and share in the enjoyment the band felt while recording.

The construction of the album was typical of the very atypical Belcirque. Requiring a sound-friendly space to rehearse, our Belgian friends found the perfect patch for their unconventional style – a glamorous, glass greenhouse! In an evolution of their creative process, it was there that they conducted relaxed jam sessions and built upon the inspiration that lead singer and lyricist Astrid Creve discovered whilst visiting Colombia. The sessions proved highly productive, and the band began recording in Brussels in August, arguably producing their best work to date.

Belcirque is so much more than an exceptional band. Creativity flows through the band and extends to the visual medium. The stunning music video to L’homme adds another bewitching dimension to Belcirque’s special style of storytelling. Furthermore, their live performances are a vibrant, circus-like cabaret that continues to thrill and put smiles on faces all over the globe. Imbued with heart and humour, the themes of love, unity and beauty resonate throughout ‘La Grande Fête’ and give us all a reminder to notice what is good in the world.

The magic of Belcirque’s repertoire encompasses a world full of colourful stories and lively celebrations. With swing, folk and barbershop influences, the band mixes today’s sound with a hint of nostalgia. Even with these diverse integrations, each song still embraces Belcirque’s distinct style – the weaving together of vocal harmonies, horns, guitars, bass and percussion into a magical tapestry of sound. For over ten years this seven-piece Belgian band have turned many venues upside down; music halls, street theatres, festivals – big and small. Today, they can be spotted in Europe, the UK, and even in South Korea.

Seraina, Ondine, Julia, Sien and Astrid met in high school and started as a female quintet in 2007. Their shared love for music and travel led them to create Belcirque, a street performance act with live music, bright costumes and humorous twists. They set out busking around Europe in their old Ford Transit Camionette; driving around, listening to music, playing their songs and meeting new people. This resulted in the EP A Tribute to F. Transit (2010), a dedication to their first red Camionette that broke down along the border of Portugal and Spain.

Due to their busking success, Belcirque were invited to play inside theatres and bars. Over time they found themselves falling under a swing-jazz and barbershop spell. This gave Belcirque a vaudeville touch. Astrid (lead vocalist) embraced this by performing in a 2.5-metre-wide tail of peacock feathers. Kris joined the group on double bass in 2010, to add rhythm and depth, and the album Boîte de Carton followed in 2014.

When Marijke joined the band in 2016, as lead guitarist, the band found a way to incorporate diverse grooves into their compositions. These grooves were mostly influenced by West-African music and North American blues. Their vaudeville-inspired act turned into musical storytelling, while wearing orient-inspired costumes (some decorated with flying fish). They guided the audience along with invented characters and surreal sceneries, never shy to add some funny mimicry or the odd unusual dance move. This led to their second album, The Tallest Man (2018), a songbook of stories told in English and French.

Their many years of playing and traveling together – getting through four Camionettes so far – resulted in Belcirque developing their own unique style. La Grande Fête (2021), their third album, is a clear result of this. With Yves, a guest on the previous album, joining the group on percussion – and by adding more horns into the mix – the band show yet another side to their dazzling talents. This time, blowing a warm South American wind through their characteristic compositions. By previously implementing African-inspired grooves and American folk pop, Belcirque today find their music described as acoustic pop with world grooves. La Grande Fête builds on this by taking on a new adventure and heading south! Travelling across deserts and dry lands, and sailing stormy oceans, it finally swims ashore upon the golden sands of South America! Echoes of their busking days, and hints of swing, vaudeville and barbershop, can still be heard throughout, but now Belcirque's characteristic style also wears a sunny Latin-American jacket, as barbershop and swing meet calypso, cumbia and rumba! The album highlights the beauty of humanity and life itself. For example, the title track contains lyrics about people coming together to celebrate life in all its forms. It encourages us to drop all prejudices about ourselves and others.

Petit Chemin (Little Road) was originally titled “Pourquoi pas?” or “Why not?”. The lyrics look at how it is easier to see the beauty and grace in someone else's struggle, when your own path looks rough. It acknowledges that we are all on the same uneven, yet beautiful, path through the unknown. L'homme (The Man) sings about faith, telling the story of a mystical man who is said to bring water to the driest lands. Each year, the children and elderly of a desert community compose weeklong rituals to praise him, never losing faith in his return. The splendour of the South American sun is expressed in Hora D'ora (Golden Hour), a calypso inspired tune describing a sunset in spring, when the light is most beautiful. Photographers call this the 'golden hour'. Looking at this beauty, a person feels at one with the world.

Love is a recurring theme throughout the album. Locura (Madness) is about a woman who is madly in love. While floating with her head in the clouds, living in the fantasy land of her romance, she fails to face the reality of her lover leaving her. Pontos is about a woman alone on an island awaiting the return of her lover, assured that the seagulls will guide him home. This is a waltz hinting at robust sea chants. All my Love is based on an old love letter by an unknown man to his wife. And not forgetting The Musketeer of Love and Fear describing the deadly duel between a man and himself. Which side will conquer? Love or fear?

This new warm and sunny breeze that blows throughout the album adds colour to Belcirque's own style of composing and arranging. This is accentuated by the addition of Spanish lyrics in La Brùjula (The Compass). This song expresses how there is beauty to be found in all four corners of the world, and as long as we acknowledge this we shall never be lost.

Where is the compass pointing to next? Wherever destiny takes them, Belcirque's goal in life is always the same – to put a smile on the faces of their listeners, to tell stories of everyday wonders, and to transport them to another time and place.


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