‘Holland sings Dutch’. The performance of Dutchness in a popular sing-along culture

Lezing door Irene Stengs



This presentation will be about a specific Dutch popular song genre called levenslied (literally ‘song of life’) and the way in which jointly levenslied singing embodies sentiments of Dutchness. What sets levenslied apart from other song genres (children's songs, pop songs, opera) is its feature of being a mainstream white, autochtonous ‘adult’ sing-along culture. The songs, generally easy in text and melody and addressing topics like the love, hardship and loneliness of ‘ordinary people’ (volks), are known by heart by millions of Dutch. Whether during a night out in the pub, in carnival-like settings, at family birthday parties or public feasts, levenslied songs may be sung out loud. Many present-day Dutch celebrities are levenslied performers, their concerts attracting tens of thousands of people time and again. Although the genre is mainstream now, there is still a connotation oflevenslied as belonging to, or originating from, the (urban) lower-class, lower-educated sections of society, a dimension that for many gives the genre a nostalgic touch. Yet, this development dates only from the 1990s and may be understood as reflecting a revaluation of ‘things Dutch’ in response to globalization and diversity.

Empirically, this presentation focuses on the current resurrection of the ‘Uncrowned King of the levenslied’, André Hazes. Hazes and his repertoire have remained popular ever since the singer’s untimely death in 2004. Embedded in commerce, the unexpected successes of the musical on Hazes’ life (Hij gelooft in mij/Hij gelooft in mij) and a new series of annual sing-along events (Holland zingt Hazes/Holland sings Hazes), designatelevenslied culture as an institutionalised public presence, encapsulated into neoliberal ‘cultural consortia’ dominated by the most influential and wealthy stakeholders in Dutch popular culture.

About the lecturer

Irene Stengs, a cultural anthropologist, is Senior Researcher at the Meertens Instituut in Amsterdam, where she works on ritual and popular culture in the Netherlands. Presently, she focuses on the ‘multiple resurrections of André Hazes’ (songs of life popular culture) and ‘the phenomenon André Rieu’ (Global spectacles, local performances). She is the author of Worshipping the Great Modernizer: King Chulalongkorn, Patron Saint of the Thai Middle Class (2009) and the editor of a book on the Dutchness of multicultural ritual in the Netherlands, entitled Nieuw in Nederland. Feesten en rituelen in verandering (2012).

About the Seminar Series

In this seminar series the relevance and irrelevance of race are being discussed as an object and concept of research in order to explore ways to talk about race without naturalizing differences. The series goes beyond a standard definition of race, one that is allegedly relevant everywhere, and situates race in specific practices of research. In addition the series gives room to the various different versions of race that can be found in the European context and explore when and how populations, religions, and cultures become naturalized and racialized. Scholars from different (inter)disciplinary fields (such as genetics, anthropology, philosophy, cultural studies, history, political sciences, science and technology studies) are invited to address the issue of race through a paper presentation. The seminar is held every six weeks at the University of Amsterdam. Webpage Seminar Series.