Beste meneer Decleir
Beste meneer Decleir

American singer releases ode to Belgian actor Jan Decleir in Dutch

“Beste meneer Decleir” chronicles how Amelia Ray learned Dutch through Decleir's films

What does an American singer-songwriter owe famed Belgian actor Jan Decleir? Apparently, an appreciation for the Dutch language. In 2006, San Francisco Bay Area native Amelia Ray spent three months studying Dutch at the University of Amsterdam. She was struggling to learn the language until she discovered the film Karakter in the university’s media library. In short order, Ray unearthed newfound motivation to study through a love of Decleir’s acting.

In the Oscar-winning 1997 film Karakter, Decleir stars as the cold-blooded bailiff Dreverhaven. The role earned him Joseph Plateau and Paris Film Festival best actor awards.

“I was struck by his ability to command entire scenes without uttering a word and his gift for portraying an overwhelming feeling of vulnerability,” Ray, who studied film at Howard University, says. “His films helped sustain my interest in learning Dutch, and I vowed to write a song letter to him one day.”

For years, Ray walked around with the melody to the beginning of that letter, “Beste meneer Decleir, vol van karakter” in her head. But the song never seemed to progress from there. Then she happened upon a portrait of Decleir on Instagram by Belgian artist Richard Hanssens, and thought it would make a great cover for the ode she had been longing to write.

Of course, the song had to be written in Dutch. A polyglot with a degree in French who worked for years as a translator and interpreter in Spain, Ray wrote 2014’s “Ana no potable” – a comedic, scathing critique of the then mayor of Madrid, Ana Botella – in Spanish. However, Ray had never before written in Dutch. But with the help of online resources and her Belgian friend Laura Weynants, “Beste meneer Decleir” was born. The song traces Ray’s journey learning the language and references some of Decleir’s films, including the aforementioned Karakter and De Zaak Alzheimer.

Musically, Ray took inspiration from Barbara’s 1970 chanson lament “Madame” – which is sung to the sender of a letter – and Wannes van de Welde’s “Voor De Deur Van De Taverne”. “The arrangement had to be elegant and harken to kleinkunst,” Ray explains, referring to the early 1960s Flemish and Dutch singer-songwriter genre. The song features Roman Gottwald on accordion and Gustavo Eiriz on guitar.

“I hope the song will bring Mr. Decleir a fraction of the joy he has provided me over the years,” Ray states.

In January 2023, Ray, who resides in Finland, released the jazz-inspired single “Delegate”. She is currently organising Europe for Ukraine – an initiative to gather musicians from 50 European countries to record an original composition in support of Ukraine.

Though Ray never took another Dutch course, through watching (mostly Decleir’s) films over the years, she still possesses pretty fair listening and reading comprehension. Though she admits, “I may never perfect the ‘ggg’ sound.”

“Beste meneer Decleir” released on 14 February 2023 – Jan Decleir’s 77th birthday.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Latest from Music

Ennio Morricone

Do you know the magic behind Ennio Morricone’s movie scores? Ennio Morricone was an Italian composer

Maurice Ravel

If you’re looking for innovative, unique music for your listening pleasure, look no further than the

Robert Schumann

Robert Schumann is one of the most renowned composers in classical music history. His compositions were