The final of the Eurovision Song Contest – the world’s most viewed show – is taking place this month. Liz Newmark meets Belgium’s hope for the crown Jérémie Makiese, who is also a professional footballer.
Love it or, well not love it as much, it’s that time again – when the Eurovision Song Contest, created way back in 1956, will sing out from our screens. On Saturday May 14, representants from some 40 countries will take to the Turin, Italy stage to try their luck at the 66th competition.
Last September, the French-speaking radio and television service in Belgium – the RTBF – announced that Jérémie Makiese, 20, winner of the 2021 ‘The Voice Belgique’ would represent Belgium. In March RTBF revealed further he would be singing ‘Miss You’ – a song written by Makiese himself with co-authors and co-composers Silvio Lisbon, Manon Romit and Mike BGRZ.
Praised for its seductive mix of pop, classic rock, hip-hop and soul, ‘Miss You’ talks about having to make choices, Makiese tells Together. “I come with a message of hope and faith that some decisions will help you to move forward, so don’t be afraid to make them.”
Makiese also acknowledges that the wide-ranging styles seen in his music reflect the mass of creativity in Belgium’s music scene. “I am a black boy with a soul voice, but I can sing a rock note and classic pop as I’m born in Belgium where we have a lot of culture and style,” he says.
“We have a lot of diversity and I put a lot of style in my music and that’s a good way of representing Belgium. I love music… I want to bring people together.”
Makiese himself was born in Antwerp and has three brothers and a sister. The family moved to Brussels when he was just six years old. Makiese, who has been singing since childhood in the church with his brothers and in family reunions – tells Together his first love and influence in music is Michal Jackson: “I was scared by ‘Thriller’, but I feel love in his music.” Other stars he looks up to include James Brown, Aretha Franklin and Adele.
Music is not Makiese’s only passion. He trained as a professional footballer and is now playing for Excelsior Virton. At 13, with his father refusing to let him play football because he was afraid of injuries, Makiese started to get seriously involved and join a football team – Belgian football legend Vincent Kompany’s club – The BX Brussels. But he took the decision to make a break for Eurovision: “It is a great responsibility and I have to make my best performance ever.”
While today’s youth may not be as aware of the importance of this venerable institution of the music world, Makesie is determined to rejuvenate Eurovision’s image and encourage young people to watch the show that is after all watched by 183 million viewers a year: “Eurovision is actually the biggest show ever and you need to know that.”
He is also determined to win. “Everyone is there to win,” he emphasises. “That is the challenge.” But if he does not take the crown, he would pick the hosts, Italy, with Mahmood and Blanco’s moving song ‘Brividi’ as “it has a lot of heart.”
Heart and warmth is something Makiese has in spades. He is eternally grateful to his family, friends and to ‘The Voice Belgium’ for his path to a Eurovision performance: “I just want to thank everyone, to thank Belgium and Italy for getting me here.” He also owes much to The Voice – “it was like a good school, I had interviews and styling outfits, everything that I will have in Eurovision.”
After the competition is over – with semi-finals to get through first on May 12, Makiese is determined “to continue to do what I like in my life. My passions, football and music. I do not know what is best now.”
Fully bilingual in French and Dutch with a good level of English, Makiese also wants to “finish school” as he is determined not to give up on what he has set out to do.
“I have the CESS – certificat d’enseignement secondaire supérieur – the French-speaking secondary school leaving certificate – but I want to go to university. If I go, even if I am 40 before it happens, I would like to study geology.”
Finally, Makiese offers a piece of advice for youngsters wanting to follow in his musical footsteps: “Feel the music, don’t be afraid to sing and shout. Just let your emotion take control of your voice. Do not be afraid and just keep singing.”
Eurovision in Belgium
Makiese is proud to perform in Italy, that is welcoming the Eurovision Sing Contest for the third time (after 1965 and 1991) thanks to the victory Måneskin’s ‘Zitti e buoni’ last year. The motto of this 66th series is “The Sound of Beauty” and the current favourite (helped or not by a potential sympathy vote) is Ukraine.
The three live shows are hosted by singers Laura Pausini and Mika and the Italian TV host Alessandro Cattelan.
Eurovision is the longest-running television musical contest. Belgium, one of the seven founder countries, has taken part since the start. Fud Leclerc, the very first Belgian participant, was the only Belgian to take part four times: in 1956, 1958, 1960 and 1962.
Belgium, won only once in 1986 thanks to Sandra Kim and her legendary “J’aime la vie”. At that time she was the youngest in the contest’s history. Only 13, she said she was 15. In 1990, the rules were changed and the minimum age to participate was set at 16.
Belgium hosted the contest on 9 May 1987 from Heysel hall 7 in Brussels. Ireland, the country holding a record seven Eurovision victories, won with Johnny Logan. He had already won the competition seven years before.
For ten years, the RTBF has counted on the pool of quality artists spotted in ‘The Voice Belqique’ to choose Eurovision participants. Jeremie Makiese, following Elliot in 2019, Blanche in 2017, Loïc Nottet in 2015 and Roberto Bellarosa in 2013, is the fifth talent to represent Belgium on stage.