One of the most memorable moments during my first visit to Brussels was to walk from Louise to Porte de Namur and enter Matongé. From luxury shops to the heart of Africa in a few steps. You can find pretty much anything you could find in many African markets. It is very tightly connected with Africa: I have witnessed how hundreds of smoked fish were packed to be flown from Kinshasa to Brussels to feed the needs of Brussels’ African quarter.
In the 1950s the Maison Africaine was founded and an influx of students from the Belgian Congo (and shortly after the Democratic Republic of Congo – DRC) arrived to Brussels. Since, the neighborhood took its name after the renowned nightlife district in Kinshasa, DRC. Brussels’ Matongé is lively as well! Its warmth contrasts with the solemn glow of the neighboring European quarter. There are many cafes, bars and restaurants to discover. I recommend the excellent Au Soleil d’Afrique for a hearty meal, beer served in big bottles and catchy African tunes. In one of the commercial galleries is MuziekPublique, a non-profit that is a concert hall, music school and music label promoting the musiques du mondes. With residents from 45 African countries, besides others from Latin America, Pakistan and India, Matongé is truly a symbol of multiculturalism.
After a rise in crime in the 1990s, came the 2001 riots after a young man was killed by a police officer. Nowadays it only sees sporadic demonstrations linked to politics in DRC and has become a desirable place indeed. Its strategic location between luxurious Louise and the European quarter has increased real estate prices, leading to fears that gentrification slowly erodes the spirit of Matongé.
But Africa’s impact on Brussels will never be eroded. Diallo and Bah, both West African names, are the most common names in Brussels. And of course many other places across Brussels host African artists. Bozar for instance is throwing an event to commemorate Papa Wemba‘s death and later hosting Oumou Sangaré, one of the most renowned Malian singers.
I have heard that Brussels is a Southern city in the North, and Brussels’ African community is a big part of that. Matongé is the physical expression of the strength of this diversity and it makes Brussels a great place to live in. The city simply would not be the same without it.