Global Politics

Belgian Singer-Songwriter Milow

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Jonathan Vandenbroek smiles when I ask him why he chose the stage name Milow.

My real name, he says, is too Belgian – it's long, and hard to pronounce for English speakers.

"Milow" seems to be working for him, though. He's becoming known not just in Belgium, but across Europe.

He's touring relentlessly to promote his latest album, "North and South".

Milow was born in Antwerp, but grew up in a small town not far from Leuven. Belgium's small size made it easy, he says, to get to concerts – his first was Pink Floyd in 1993.

He says he loved the standard rock of the 1980s and 90s, but he found himself reaching back into the 70s.

"I never made it a secret that I love that era," Vandenbroek said. "I love the early Springsteen, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Jackson Browne, so I …you know, you don't really think about it too much, you just sort of do what you feel like doing, and I started writing acoustic based music."

After high school, Milow spent a year as an exchange student in southern California.
He says for a young singer aspiring to write songs in English, it was great.

"(I) played a lot of music, played for the first time my English songs for an English-speaking audience," Vandenbroek said. "And everything I do these days is trying to you know, the symbolic moment where I play my first headlining concert in southern California. That would sort of – the circle would be complete at that point. It would be nice."

"North and South" is nod, he says, to all the non-stop touring he's been doing from Northern Europe to Southern Europe. But the album also includes a track called "The Kingdom".

Milow says it's the first political song he's ever written. Flemish politicians actually attacked Milow on Twitter when the album was released.

It's strange, Milow says, because a few years ago, it seemed like all Belgians were united in their ambivalent feelings about their country.

"These last few years, things I think are getting a little bit out of hand between the Dutch speaking north and the French speaking south," he said. "It's this mixture … even if it's strange, and even if it comes with these ambiguous feelings, that made me as a person, and as a musician. Definitely as a musician."

And for Milow's next step?

Finding a label to bring out "North and South" in Britain and the United States. He says he'd also love to hook up with a US artist, and finally get a chance to tour in America.

"The Kingdom lyrics

Where I'm from there are no mountains
And time is standing still
Where I'm from there's barely space left
Still they're running up a hill
Where I'm from they don't like changes
Even if alarm bells ring
Where I'm from they have a princess
Where I'm from they have a king

Where I'm from they don't like dreamers
They are told to shut their mouth
Where I'm from they're divided
Between the North and the South
Where I'm from it's like a long night
That never turns to day
Where I'm from the kingdom's trembling
Where I'm from they've lost the way

Sing it loud today
Sing it loud today
I'm singing it loud today
I am the one that got away

Where I'm from they just keep rooted
Heads are always hanging low
Where I'm from the Congo River
Never got nowhere to go
Where I'm from words are repeated
But they never really rhyme
Where I'm from the kingdom's trembling
Where I'm from they're losing time

Where I'm from there's a lack of heroes
Both in politics and song
Where I'm from the more they fix it
The faster everything goes wrong
Where I'm from I still remember
So I will sing it every day
That this kingdom is still my kingdom
It's encoded in my DNA

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