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This blog was written by Kim Kahn, communications and fundraising manager at Musicians Without Borders.

The last weekend of April I traveled to Brussels to visit the Balkan Trafik Festival. Every year, one of the main squares in the heart of Brussels city is transformed into a celebration of all things Balkan music and Balkan musicians.

As a project operating in the Balkans, working with young musicians in Kosovo and North Macedonia, our  Music Connects program has a long-term partnership with the festival.  Since 2023, we have been lucky enough to perform with our multi-ethnic youth bands on the Balkan Trafik stage with some incredible young performers. This year we were represented by three bands from the Music Connects partners: Moon Jacky Jane from Fontys Rockacademie in Tilburg (NL), Affinity from Mitrovica Rock School (Kosovo), and Right Turn from Roma Rock School from Skopje (North Macedonia).

The music students arrived in Brussels on Wednesday and had their rehearsals on Thursday and Friday. Mentored by coaches from the three rock schools, the group learned all about being on tour at a festival venue. They even had a cameraman to record their experiences and performances. In total they arrived in Brussels with eleven music students across the three bands. What an adventure!

When I met the young musicians on Friday night at the festival square, they were very excited and having a good time. One of the students said: ‘This is just awesome that we get the chance to be here at this festival, to travel with our band, and to meet other people. For some of us it’s our first travel experience abroad.’ They were also a little bit nervous for their performance the next day, as the level of performance on stage that night was high!

On Saturday we had a networking event with all the accompanying staff members and the performing artists. With Belgian beer of course! There was a warm welcome to the festival and all its participants from a representative of the Brussels-Capital Region  who emphasized the importance of a diverse cultural sector in Brussels. Together with colleague Wendy, program manager for Western Balkans and Music Connects, we also met up with journalists and other people in the network of the festival.

And then, it was Show Time! Time for the last sound checks at 5.15 pm on Saturday. We joined in on the festival square and saw the young musicians were dealing professionally with their nerves and doing all the last sound checks. And then at 6.00 pm sharp their concert took off. Around the stage a curious festival audience gathered. The speaker of the festival introduced the three bands of Music Connects with: ‘These performers are playing in multi-ethnic bands, using their music to express themselves, to connect together and for change in their societies.’

They all played so well on stage! Each band brought their own personal style and sound. The set started with an energizing build up from acoustic trio Moon Jacky Jane from Tilburg, via the four-piece Affinity from Mitrovica to the power blast from Skopje’s Right Turn. All performing their own songs, giving their best performances and with amazing guitar solos! I really enjoyed seeing them and saw the relief in their eyes when all the performances were done. Big applause from the crowd!

That Saturday night the last festival performance was starring the Ukraine Eurovision winner Kalush Orchestra. Festival director Nicolas Wieërs and his team should be very proud of what they achieved. My colleague Wendy said: ‘I’m so proud of all the musicians in the bands, they played so well. All their preparation really paid off!’ 

And that’s a wrap! On Sunday after breakfast, we all went on our way back to our home bases: to Mitrovica, Skopje, and our various home towns in the Netherlands. We had an amazing experience together that I will bring back home with me. It was a pleasure that I could join them and experience the connecting power of music.

Read more about the Festival Balkan Trafik!

More information about the Rock School Program Music Connects on our website. 

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