26.04.2017 | Words by:
Emma van Meyeren.
In his blogpost
about April’s line-up, Luc reflected on the decision to use orange for the banner of this year’s Kingsday club night: "It's a nice colour, but the idea of orange, the idea of Dutchness, spread by scary Dutch political powers, is not what our orange looks like - or not what we want it to look like. It's an anxious orange. Let's try and re-appropriate orange and use it for a celebration of kindness, movement and flexibility."
I spoke to one of the night’s DJs, Philou Louzolo
, to explore the anxieties of orange, its ideas of Dutchness and the means of its reappropriation. But first, let’s spin back a little for de School’s visitors who have not grown up in the Dutch monarchy.
April 27 is the birthday of the Dutch King, Willem-Alexander of Orange-Nassau. Dating back to 1885, the tradition of celebrating the monarch’s birthday was initiated to 'stimulate national unity': a unity that was as imagined and fragile then as it is now. In its earlier days, the national holiday had competition from the national labour day on May 1st. Socialists, democrats and communists refused to celebrate the monarchy and celebrated labour day instead. In it’s current form however Kingsday is hardly, if ever, politicized.
And yet orange, and its imminent ideas of Dutchness, are as central to public and political debates as they have ever been. The Netherlands, as most European nations, struggles with new forms of nationalism and xenophobia. Traditional signs and artifacts are claimed as its hallmark. It would be a mistake to think only the extreme right returns to flags, wooden shoes and tulips in surge of a nation-based identity. The Christian Democrats, for instance, proposed to bring back the national anthem
to primary schools. Liberals meanwhile ride the "we speak Dutch in the Netherlands" wave to impose its idea of Dutchness.
From language to flags to the colour orange, national identity has and always will be based on mechanisms of exclusion. Who can be(come) Dutch? Who is represented by orange, who can influence its meaning and who is allowed to critique it? These questions were most openly raised when Abulkasim Al-Jaberi was prosecuted
for saying "Fuck the King" at an anti-Black Pete demonstration. People of Colour and undocumented peoples in the Netherlands are silenced when they point out the hypocrisies of Dutch culture. This is all the more visible for those displaced from the very countries the House of Orange-Nassau got its riches from, such as Philou’s parents.
"On paper I’m Dutch, but my parents were born in a part of the world the West has robbed and plundered for centuries. I love my Dutch friends and family but I can never love Europe and the Netherlands as much as my white friends do. I’ve always struggled to combine these two backgrounds, and somehow, this made it easier to choose. I compare it to choosing between your parents: it becomes a whole lot easier when one of them terrorizes you. You’re partly your father and partly your mother and in the same vein I’m partly Dutch and partly Congolese, Nigerian and Sierra Leonean. But it almost feels like betrayal once I begin to feel comfortable with my Dutch/European identity, exactly because the Dutch do not only share a violent history with Africa, they too continue to hold a denigrating demeanor against the Continent and its citizens. I can recommend everyone to watch the documentary Virunga
to see how Europe still extracts oil and gold from the Continent."
The geopolitical implications of Dutch history and its monarchy are as much a political reality as they are a personal reality: “My friends think that I belong, they see me as a Dutch citizen and sometimes it’s hard for them to understand why I’m so invested in Africa. I feel accepted in my city (Rotterdam) and around my family but I don’t feel Dutch. Once I leave my bubble… the comfort is gone and I can sense the gaze of the folks that’d rather see less diversity. My Dutchness is constantly questioned because I am not white. If we want different cultures in the Netherlands to come closer to each other, and if we aim for our multicultural society to really work, it’s necessary to portray Africa not solely from the one-sided Western perspective but from the progressive African perspective that centralizes its own development.”
Philou’s memories of his Dutchness under pressure consist of a constant navigation of two sides of a spectrum: from white friends misinterpreting his Blackness and calling him a ‘bounty’ to Black friends calling him a sellout. As a DJ such preconceptions of Blackness influence his art and the way he relates to his material: "Because of the expectations of labels, Dutch people with a non-Western background are asked to choose between two worlds and two identities, while the combination of both worlds is more in line with who I am. I aim to challenge people by confronting them with the contrasts of binaries and thereby disproving stereotypes. This is why I’m so happy to see Black dandyism and La Sape coming back. I enjoy playing mainstream Afropop songs with R&B aspects after an obscure Afro classic from the 60/70s. Diggers and purists aren’t here for it, they lack the sentiment and fail to see the cultural value of modern Afropop for the African continent. At the same time people from the mainstream will like the Afropop songs but are thrown off by the obscure African music from the 60/70s. These two sides influence my DJing but they also influence my everyday life. Rightwing political power limits the space for people who want to be both."
Against this background, Philou’s persistence to do both, to be both, subverts racist binaries and its connections to nationalism: an approach uplifts the club, especially during Kingsday. "In Europe DJ’s and programmers often approach African music in two different ways: it’s either incomplete or gimmicky and stereotyping. I try (regardless of background and skin colour) to gather people around me who are aware of their privileged position towards the people whose culture and music they borrow and use for commercial ends. I no longer waste my energy on reclaiming Dutchness, I’m far more interested in claiming honest and respectful representation of African culture and music. Mostly because this image influences my own life directly, and the lives of Black African people around the world."
"I wish I could mix a raw techno tune after a polyrhythmic percussion song without the public and promoters reacting confused. Sometimes I listen to techno and I think to myself: damn, this is just a traditional polyrhythmic afro tune made with synthesizers and drum computers. And sometimes I listen to a Gambian percussion song and I think: damn, this is just like techno with conga’s and bongo’s. Africans were so ahead of their time. Afrocentricity, to me, means that I recognize the timeless African influences in art, culture and music and approach it as a force that cuts right through all geographical borders and preconceptions. Amplifying these aspects of my work might not make me popular but it’s important to me to make people think about these aspects of the music: how often are my white colleagues asked to justify the music they play because it’s not coherent to their skin color or background? And so I no longer feel the need to reclaim 'Dutchness', I think I’d have to compromise too much to completely fit into what other people -both society at large and the music industry in specific - expect that 'Dutchness' to be."You can catch Philou alongside Bambounou, Mairo Nawaz and Woody on Kingsday April 27.
Photo credit: Laisa Maria