Jean “Toots” Thielemans was born in Brussels in 1922, but his special relationship with Antwerp was solidified by his grandparents, who lived there, and by his mother, who was born there. “I started playing accordion at the age of three,” he tells me from home in Belgium after a spate of festival appearances this summer. “Next I studied the accordion – but when I heard the harmonica, I made my decision.”
Then suddenly they began shouting in full riot-girl fashion and a saxophone broke out. We exploded into smiles. It was all at once an enthralling, uplifting and joyful outburst. "I really hope that's the band and not just a CD," said one of my friends. It wasn't a CD.
We hurried down the hill to find five girls clad in knee-length boots and futuristic grey and fluorescent yellow dresses. Those not on keyboards stomped furiously about the stage, keeping perfect pitch. They were clearly having a good time. Behind them skulked the male members of the band, on guitar and drums.
You can imagine, then, the cheers that are going up this year, as the clouds become greyer and the air gets chillier. So after you watch the arrival of the cast of the new Flemish film, Adem (Oxygen), which opens the festival on 3 September, you may not regret having to duck inside to catch the movie, the premiere feature from Hans Van Nuffel.
The 23-year-old started up a web development company with his brother, and the two have launched Artplace, an online art gallery. Jacobs has always had an interest in art, has a collection of his own and followed a short art course in Paris.
I was actually hooked from my first visit to the site, browsing through the multiple disciplines - painting, drawing, sculpture, etc. You can search in a number of ways - by price, for instance, or time period or artist.
Manuscripts are our key to the musical life of the distant past as they contain innumerable songs and instrumental pieces for the church, the court, the street and the home that are often unavailable anywhere else. These unique, often richly illuminated volumes bearing exotic names such as Winchester Troparium and Codex Squarcialupi are today locked up in monasteries and libraries across Europe.
There are two photo exhibitions well worth a visit. Pôze III / Africa Town is a compilation of work by amateurs and professionals of how they see Africa in Brussels. My favourite piece is of two suited black men eating cornets of fries in Troonplein next to the statue of Congo coloniser King Leopold II.
A Useful Dream, meanwhile, presents African photography through the last five decades, from shots of 1960s chicks with bouffant hair to modern-day drag queens. In one, a nude woman strides proudly down the street while a shopkeeper gawps from his window.
Dividing Africa into six regions – Maghreb, Savannah, Sahel, Forest, Mountain and Desert – this show, the cornerstone of the Visionary Africa festival, celebrates the art of the 17 African countries that won their independence from colonialism in 1960.
"This was an ideological statement, a way of saying we didn't want to take into account the colonial borders of the past," says Anne-Marie Bouttiaux, one of the curators of the exhibition and head of ethnographic art at the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren.
"We decided to give the carte blanche this year to a director who is perhaps a little less well-known because he has such an interesting personality and an outspokenness that is increasingly rare in cinema," explains Emmanuel Gaspart, Écran Total programmer. "We really liked his frankness and accessibility, and that's apparent in his choice of films."
Eric De Mildt produces intimate images of rail travellers at Brussels' stations, catching them contemplating books, text messages or the departure screens. He makes a virtue of low light to produce atmospheric, grainy shots. One of the best uses reflections in the windows at North Station to build up layers in the image, bringing together people in the train, on the platform and on the descending a staircase.