The name of the capital city of the Netherlands is famous and infamous. Some people even seem think it’s a country instead of a city.
Famous for its history, museums, monuments and canals. Infamous for being a sort of European Sin City, with its coffee shops (not just Starbucks) and red-light district.
But don’t believe everything you hear. With the image if Delft blue, tulips, cheese, clogs and cannabis we only have a kitsch caricature: Amsterdam as an amusement park, a tourist-trap.
One aspect that is revered especially in the Netherlands is the untranslatable word “gezelligheid“. A sort of mentality right in between sociability and coziness. It can be used to describe having a good time with friends and family. But also as a label for the ambience of a pub or at a concert.
One part of Amsterdam, the ‘Jordaan‘ is especially known for its ‘volksmuziek‘. The “smartlap” (hurt-song) is genre filled with riddles of lost love and misfortune, set to te sound of accordions and (in later years) kitschy computer generated tracks. It reminds somewhat of the sentimental stuff Elvis made (My Boy, In the Ghetto). The basis for this genre can be found in sailor songs and folk music from Germany and France. All of these songs are sung in Dutch, or the Amsterdam dialect.
It’s a type of music I like to avoid, too kitsch and too cliché. But a great portion of the Dutch like to grab a beer and revel in the fake sentiments of the songs.
Ironically one of the songs that best describes this is not sung by someone from Amsterdam, let alone a Dutch citizen. The Belgian chansonnier Jacques Brel. In “Le Port Amsterdam” he masterfully sums up the clichés and gives a blink to the music of the city.
Brel lived in Brussels, spoke French, but also made a Dutch version of the song.
Later David Bowie made an English version:
It was adopted as a sort of second anthem. The Dutch version was covered by various bands like “De Dijk” (The Dam)…
And the Celtic folk-rock band “Rapalje”…