Meeting Majid Bekkas at the Gaume Jazz Festival in Rossignol, Belgium

Updated: Oct 26, 2021

Some of the nicer tasks during this pandemic period – how could it be otherwise – are moments of musico-social interaction in a shared physical space. In August 2021 I was invited to attend the 37th edition of the Gaume Jazz Festival in Rossignol in the southeast of Belgium. Over three days, 23 groups from 13 different nations played on the grounds of the cultural centre in this picturesque Wallonian village. Slightly more than one hundred years ago, the village's surroundings were the site of one of the first battles of WW1 when German and French forces engaged in a deadly encounter in August 1914. Soldiers' graves are scattered across Rossignol's countryside. Since 1985, the village has hosted the Gaume Jazz Festival celebrating cultural diversity and exchange, as well as promoting the regional tourism sector. This year, two large festival tents served as the main stages, whereby they also protected the audience and musicians from intermittent heavy rainfall. In the nearby Saint-Nicolas church you could catch intimate, unamplified solo performances. And an outdoor performance space labelled ‘amphitheatre’ offered a change from the bigger festival tent stages and the concert hall inside the cultural centre. Belgian beer, couscous with meat, sausages in buns: business as usual except this year’s ability to camp on site. After an alternative edition last year, the Gaume Jazz Festival kicked off properly again.

Housed in a cosy Bed & Breakfast within walking distance, I made my way to the festival in about five minutes. The festival days started at noon with performances of local groups, including a performance by artist-in-residence Margaux Vranken and more than 60 children. Among the versatile line-up of performing artists were Aka Moon, the Éric Legnini Trio and the Sunna Gunnlaugs and Julia Hülsmann Duo. Irish folk tunes, flamenco, Greek music and Western pop sounded at this year’s edition. The ‘jazz festival’ united, as so many times, various local musical traditions from around Europe and the globe, inviting musical exploration and exchange in the outdoors.

Left: the Esteban Murillo Quartet

Right: Ntoumos Quintet with their programme 'Back to the Roots'

I was particularly interested to meet one of my interlocutors from Morocco, the musician and festival organiser Majid Bekkas. Since 1996, he directs the Jazz au Chellah (back then the Jazz aux Oudayas) festival in Rabat, Morocco, which was founded by the Delegation of the European Union and is often seen as a symbol of brotherhood between Europeans and Moroccans. On an off over th