Meet the everyday music or noise makers of Brussels

We usually pass them along the sidewalks, at the train station, or down the alleyways of Brussels. They play their instruments and sing their songs in public places without any invitation. The sounds they make may be music to some, noise to others.

Yet there they are, the nameless everyday performers of Brussels churning out melodies that greet you on your way to the office, while you dine in a restaurant, or as you head back home after work. They go largely unnoticed, but they play on anyway in exchange for some coins.

Who are they? Let’s put a name and a little background to some of the regular music or noise makers in the city. Will you recognize any of them?

Gigi Bruselex, Romanian accordion player

Romanian accordion player Gigi Bruselex at Porte de Namur
Gigi Bruselex at Porte de Namur

If you enjoy shopping at Porte de Namur especially on a Saturday, chances are you’ve seen this man sitting by the sidewalk playing the accordion and greeting passers-by with a smile. He is as jolly as the music he makes.

His name is Gigi Bruselex and he comes from the city of Pitesti in Romania. The 50-year old musician says he learned how to play the accordion from his father. Mr. Bruselex used to work as a taxi driver in Pitesti until he moved to Brussels with his wife and four children about six years ago.

Abraham Kunik, Argentine clarinetist

Argentine clarinetist Abraham Kunik at the Maelbeek metro station
Abraham Kunik at the Maelbeek metro station

On a Wednesday or Thursday morning, you might come across an old, frail-looking man playing the clarinet at the Maelbeek metro station. The very sight of this grandfatherly figure will warm your heart.

Meet Abraham “Coco” Kunik of Argentina. Mr. Kunik has been playing the clarinet since he was 17 years old. But nowadays, he has to pause every few minutes from blowing air into the mouthpiece. At 80 years of age, it has become hard for him to sustain his breathing. But he remains optimistic about his health and about life even though he was earlier diagnosed with prostate cancer. He says making music keeps him up and alive. Mr. Kunik has been living in Belgium for 30 years together with his wife, but he misses his son and daughter who are in Argentina.

Johann Erdei, Romanian violinist

Johann Erdei at the Brussels Central Station

There are a number of musicians that frequently perform along the tunnel connecting the Brussels Central Station to the metro. One of them is Romanian violinist Johann Erdei who started playing the violin at the age of five. He comes from a family of musicians. His father plays the contrabass while his brother is also a violinist.

The 42-year old fiddler has been a Brussels resident for five years, but his wife and four children are living in Romania. Mr. Erdei hopes to get a stable job in Belgium to support his family, but he says it has been difficult for him to find employment due to language constraints.

Gheorghe Mierloiu, Romanian guitar player

Romanian guitarist Gheorghe Mierloiu at the Brussels Central Station]
Gheorghe Mierloiu at the Brussels Central Station

While walking along the corridors of the Brussels Central Station, you may one day hear some Latin American classics like Historia de un Amor or Bésame Mucho played on the guitar. The man behind the strings could be no other than Gheorghe Mierloiu who has been playing the guitar for more than 20 years. His repertoire includes a great deal of flamenco and salsa music since he is a big fan of the French band, the Gipsy Kings. Mr. Mierloiu moved to Belgium from Romania about two years ago. He goes home to Bucharest whenever he can to be with his wife and daughter.

Marc Mila, Belgian singer

Belgian singer Marc Mila on the metro
Marc Mila on the metro

In a city where most street performers are migrants, 64-year old Marc Mila proudly represents the Belgians. You may catch him singing à la Charles Aznavour or Jacques Brel on subway trains. Mr. Mila says he is really more of a pianist than a singer. But since he can’t carry a piano around, he croons his way from metro to metro instead. After collecting coins from his morning serenade, Mr. Mila usually goes straight to a social restaurant in the city center for a hearty meal and the fellowship of other regular customers who have become his friends and community.

They may seem like any ordinary beggar to you. But they’re not simply sitting or walking around asking people for money. They are playing an instrument in hopes of earning a few spare coins. And playing an instrument, just like any job, requires skill acquired through years of practice and training. What they do may not be a job, but they are working in their own way.

The only question is whether the sound they make is welcome or appreciated at all. Any sound no matter how creative or harmonic can be noise if unwanted.

Music or noise, the choice is yours. But those classical pieces and good old tunes will keep playing for those who have ears to hear and the heart to appreciate. As that old song goes, “There is music in the city, if your ear is to the ground. Only non-believers never hear a single sound.

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