Marching bands will take to the streets of downtown Brussels in flamboyant costumes this Friday as Belgium is the host country for this year's World Fife and Drum Festival.
Fife and drum bands from America, Switzerland, Italy, France and Belgium will play Brussels, Ypres and Ghent over the weekend and entertain passers-by with not only historical military-style marching music, but also carnival-style music such as that played at the world-famous, Unesco-recognised Binche carnival.
Having played at various gatherings in France, the US and Switzerland, Hans Quaghbeur, the organiser of this year’s festival, felt it was about time that the event should take place in Belgium.
The bands consist of fifes, small transverse flutes, and side drums that are hung around the neck and played with two sticks. Historically, they were used by the military from the 16th to the 18th centuries, not only to help soldiers to march into battle, but also to sound signals and alarms. Eventually these instruments were replaced by bugles but the fife and drum musical tradition still lives on.
"We still play the old drum rudiments," says Quaghbeur, who is also a drummer in the Trommelfluit band from Flanders. "But the tradition of Ivrea, the Italian band, is a pure carnival tradition and the music of the Gilles de Binche is also carnival music, so the festival is a bit of both, marching and carnival music."
As well as the specific sound of a fife and drum band, members also dress up in colourful costumes. "Most of the bands are dressed up, mainly in costumes from the 17th and 18th century," says Quaghbeur.
"Our American friends are dressed up in costumes from the American revolution, the Trommelfluit band wear costumes from 1678 and the Swiss are dressed up in historical costumes of the Cent-Suisses, the historic 100-man personal guard of Louis IV.
"The band from Dunkirk are dressed up as pirates because Dunkirk was famous for pirates in the 18th century and the dancers from the Gilles de Binche wear the traditional costume of the Gilles with the very large ostrich feathers."
The festival kicks off on Friday at 16.00 with a parade through the Grand-Place in Brussels to the statue of Mannekin Pis. At 18.00 the bands will gather at La Tentation on Rue De Laeken for a free evening of music and dancing.
On Saturday at 14.00, the fife and drum bands will march through Ypres and perform a concert at 18.00 on the town square as well as a visit to the Menin Gate for the Last Post. The festival will finish in Ghent on Sunday with a parade and performances from 10.00-16.00, which coincide with Car Free Sunday.