Every year on 5 May, Wageningen is flooded by about 120,000 revellers. They can watch a military parade and enjoy music from numerous podia. Two students and a PhD candidate tell us about what they do to help make the festival a success.
Text Anne van der Heijden photos Sven Menschel
A podium for rising stars
‘On 5 May, Wageningen changes from a boring village into the grounds of a festival. I love that atmosphere,’ says Sanne Bom (20), a student of Health and Society and chair of the Popcultuur Wageningen foundation. When she started on her Bachelor’s programme three years ago, she discovered how exuberantly this town celebrates freedom. She decided she wanted to be part of it, and every year since then she helps run the Liberation Festival.
Together with others from Popcultuur, this year Bom will be arranging everything for the Sena Performers Stage in the park, where up-and-coming bands get to play. ‘We only have new bands on our podium. We found some of them through Popcultuur. Niko was in the last Popronde Wageningen, for instance, and Dawn Brothers were at Loburg café last year.’
‘Music is my passion and I am keen to develop my organizing capacities,’ says Bom when asked why she devotes so much time to this voluntary work. ‘If you are involved in music in Wageningen, and you can say you are involved in 5 May, then you’ve really achieved something.’
Bom is satisfied with the setup of the young talent podium this year. ‘Our sponsor, Sena, is an organization that stands up for musicians’ rights. They demand that we are within 200 metres of the main podium. That means our podium is very central and we were involved in the organization of the main podium too. We play in turns so the music doesn’t compete.’
Commander of the Guard of Honour
Besides being an MSc student of Biotechnology, Hidde Berg (23) is also president of and commander at of Transvaal, a sub-society of Ceres. This student militia provides 13 students every year to form a guard of honour for the veterans and military who walk in the Liberation Parade. ‘I have been in the guard of honour for the past two years, and this year I’m there as commander.’
During the Cold War the members of Transvaal learned to handle weapons, so they would be able to help in armed resistance to a possible Russian invasion. ‘We are way beyond that point now, but we still form a bridge between the student world and the military,’ says Berg. He thinks it is important that students know what is involved in defending a nation. ‘Peace and security don’t come by themselves; people often forget that other people work hard to achieve them or even sacrifice their lives for them. Transvaal makes sure that potential future leaders get to know the armed forces in a positive way, so they know the army exists for us.’
The link with Remembrance Day for the victims of war on 4 May is clear to Berg. ‘Wageningen is the city of the German capitulation, a university town with a military past. We fall nicely in between.’ He thinks it is important not to forget the link with the war. ‘Otherwise it will just turn into a party. Of course it’s great to celebrate freedom, but we mustn’t forget the origins of the festival.’
‘Reggae is about freedom’
For Stefan Wilson (34), this will be his first Liberation Festival, and he gets to walk straight onto the stage as an artist. He will perform his reggae music at two thirty in the afternoon on the podium on the Salverdaplein. A nice opportunity. ‘I came to the Netherlands from Trinidad and Tobago to do my Master’s in Applied Statistics and a PhD in statistical genetics, but also to widen the audience for my music.’
Wilson sings reggae under the stage name Verse iTal. ‘My voice is my instrument.’ He wrote his first songs at the age of nine, about the girl next door. Later his music was influenced by Michael Jackson. ‘And I was influenced by hiphop when I was doing my first degree in America.’ Wilson generally composes cheerful reggae music. ‘Reggae is about freedom. It is the music of oppressed people, a cry for freedom.’ So he feels it is something special to be able to perform at the Liberation festival. ‘Although 5 May doesn’t mean anything to me personally, the concept of freedom does. Reggae used music to say that everyone should have the right to be free.’
Wilson made a conscious choice not to earn his living from his music. ‘Science is part of me too. I want to keep both talents alive. I would love to teach maths and statistics all academic year and sing all summer. That is actually my way of teaching outside the classroom. There is more to it than the enjoyment alone.’