Mon 27 February 2017

citybooks | The musical tour

A few times a year, the Flemish-Dutch House deBuren (“the neighbours”) sends a group of writers and a photographer to a city and gives them two weeks to look around and think. We put the stories and pictures they bring back with them on the citybooks website, which is now starting to bear a strong resemblance to a small city itself. For his internship at deBuren, Max Urai wrote a travel guide about that virtual city.

travel guide citybooks banner

In this second tour, we’ll be visiting stories on music, musicians and musical culture.


A song about communism, espionage and corruption

We start in 1983, in Georgia. Since the All-Union Secretary General is coming to visit Tbilisi, the Central Committee asks six composers to each write a song for the city. Lasha Bugadze describes how one of the composers gets to work, how it doesn’t work out and how he complains about this to a priest. The priest tells a friend about it, who then shares the story with someone else. A song for Tbilisi is one of the most ambitious stories on the website: a web of stories about communism, espionage, music and corruption.

‘Tsertsvadze's first judge is his mother. Whilst his father sleeps Zaur sits with his mother in the kitchen and, with his guitar in his hands and through pursed lips, sings his new composition. When his mother likes something she says “Play it again”, and when she doesn't like something she starts rewashing clean dishes.’

Read & listen to A song for Tbilisi


Mauro Pawlowski writes 'Na zdrowie, good Belgian!'

We’ll continue our tour with the story Na zdrowie, good Belgian! by Mauro Pawlowski. For Dutch readers: Pawlowski is the guitarist of dEUS and roughly seventeen thousand other bands. Alongside his music he writes poetry, and for citybooks he wrote a funny short story on the music scene in Lublin.

‘On the farm I slept in the same room as my grandmother and two aunties. Once, in the middle of the night, the door flew open. There stood the eldest son of the house. It was clear that he’d been out on the piss and had somehow managed to acquire a trumpet while he was at it. Quite spontaneously, he decided to give us a demonstration of freestyle jazz then and there, totally unconstrained by any knowledge of the instrument. He was also wearing a ridiculous hat, the origins of which remained unclear. By the time my grandmother had finally managed to find her glasses and asked us aghast what the matter was, he had already disappeared.’

Read & listen to Na zdrowie, good Belgian!


© Lea Titz (citybook Chartres)


Radio Yerevan

Our third story takes place in a radio studio in Yerevan, the capital city of Armenia, where the DJ calls himself ‘Yerevan’ as well. Armen of Armenia’s story Radio Yerevan is about activism, poetry, radio and pop music. It’s useful to know is that all sentences in italics in the story are quotations from pop songs.

‘“This is Yerevan speaking. Let me remind you that we are here live with our guest, prose-writer Gayane Armen. We’ve come to age. How old, all things considered, is Yerevan? Hopelessly old or is it a newborn city without a past?”’

‘“It’s impossible to tell its age. The black frogs, in the name of state necessity, razed to the ground all of 19th century Yerevan at the beginning of the 21st century, and the noise raised by the white crows on this occasion was like a voice calling out in the wilderness. But it’s the voice that’s a sign of life;”’

Read & listen to Radio Yerevan


Your Guide's Insider Recommendation: Adrian Schiop

We end our tour with one of my favourite stories on the whole website: Travesty by Adrian Schiop. Schiop writes about the summer of 2006, when he was unemployed and Bucharest was under a spell of manele music, a type of blend between Cilla Black and commercial hip hop music, which was made particularly by the Rroma.

‘With European integration and the rain of money over Romania, it had become a national sport to take on an anti-manele attitude. In a strange way, the more broadminded somebody was, the more violently he felt the need to take a stand. The students in Cluj picketed the Student House of Culture, where a concert with Nicolae Guța was to be held, shouting that the “manele king” had no business there. A campaign in Timişoara proposed that at hour ‘H’ on a Sunday morning, civilized people should “give Mozart to the neighborhood”, letting it boom at maximum volume from their cars and apartments.’

Read & listen to Travesty


With this we have come to the end of this tour. Thank you for reading and don’t forget the guide.


Also read

- The culinary tour
- The slums tour
- The tour of travel companions



Translated from Dutch by Annelies Dotselaere, who did an internship at deBuren as part of her Master in Translation at the KU Leuven Campus Brussels.


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