On the one hand there is the Maitrank, literally “May drink”, which will be served to you in abundance upon your arrival. In theory, the elixir mixes with white wine, woodruff, cognac and an orange peel, but in reality everyone distills the thing in their corner with their own recipe. It is impossible to escape from whatever the event was celebrating. Not trying it (and trying it again) would be considered a grave insult to the Arlonnais who offer it to you.
After this lively introduction to the local culture, here we are in the streets, a little dazed, to experience another pride of Gaume: the first of five evenings planned by the Aralunaires, a very nice festival of pop, rap -, rock and electro discovery that has existed since 2009 in the heart of Arlon. Around twenty artists will be performing in halls, bars, houses, churches and other historic sites until May 1st. But this Wednesday evening, to celebrate spring and the end of confinement, a strange event is being organized downtown. “Hurry up and finish your drinks”, we are told happily, “the procession is about to start, you can’t miss it”.
McLoud, Prince of Schaarbeek
With the scene unfolding before our eyes, we wonder for a moment if that famous May Potion hasn’t been too busy. A dozen little elves dressed in green dance around an altar that also appears to contain a strong local drink. Just behind them, in dark suits, tall guys are distributing plastic cups with big silver hats everywhere, like something out of a kish 80’s sci-fi movie vigorously encouraged by the brass band that follows him. So much for the decor, “and here’s the Prins Zonder carnival,” we hear.
Proudly positioned at the head of the procession, a strange flute in hand, McLoud leads this joyous entrance. Green cloak on his back, graying goatee, the man is of a curious and amusing eccentricity. “His real name is McLoud,” continues one of our hosts. “He’s the carnival prince of Schaerbeek, but since there’s no carnival in Schaerbeek, he’s just the prince without a carnival. He is here today to bring Arlon together with his community.”
With our raised eyebrow, the story continues and we’re sure it’s authentic. “McLoud was born in Arkansas (USA). In the 80’s he traveled to Europe to play with his punk band, but when it came to leaving Belgium he missed his flight and guess what – he fell in love with the local folklore – he decided to move to Brussels not to leave”. The man, we are told, is the best connoisseur of the country’s folk traditions and is therefore legitimately celebrating the opening of the festival with a surreal opening concert, a mix of rock, doo-wop and rap.
Sopico, rocker rapper
Even the artists who are supposed to perform a few hours later remain speechless. On the square of the Saint-Martin church, Antoine Wielemans takes part in this performance, half amused, half amazed. The leader of Girls In Hawaii presents Vattetot, his first and very beautiful solo album. Exhausted from a long tour with his group, locked up like everyone else for long months, Antoine slowly began to compose for him, rediscovering the use of French. Less eccentric than McLoud (which isn’t very difficult), the singer-guitarist therefore has the great honor of performing his tracks in the city’s very beautiful church, mesmerizing a religiously seated audience with ease from 9:30pm. The result is beautiful, floating, carried by the grandeur of the place.
The festive crowd gathered a few tens of meters below in the Warehouse, a small local space that was overheated for the occasion. We discover jazz, the beautiful compositions of the French trumpeter Bésau, who gently disappears behind a seductive saxophonist and a drummer with a diabolical groove. Two Maitranks later comes Sopico, rocker-rapper who goes through Arlon before offering himself an Olympia in his hometown of Paris. Again, the style is radically different. The lyrics are certainly rapped, but the guitars are grunge, rock, sometimes punk, and the energy it emanates electrifies the local crowd. “Arlon is not a priority on the bookers’ map,” one of the festival’s programmers told us a few days ago. However, Tukan, Commander Spoon, Avalanche Kaito, Asa Moto, Bolis Pupul, Grandbrothers, Lalalar and many others will be entering local stages by Sunday night. With a poster like that, we take our hats off to them.