Leon Moorman wants to sell ‘Drents’ to international audience

And he’s not ashamed of those ambitions

This article originally appeared on 3VOOR12/Drenthe.

For the 29-year-old Leon Moorman, 2019 was a perfect year. He won the local Drents songfestival and the audience award at the festival of minority languages in Italy. ‘Knooin’ reached (inter)national audiences and put the Drents term back in people’s vocabulary. Despite his achievements, he’s still hungry for more. In Stadscafé Het Refter in Zwolle we meet up with him, where he talks with an enthusiastic spark about his ambitious dreams.

It started just over a year ago when Moorman put ‘Naor Huus’ on Spotify. Together with Robin Muilwijk he decided to enter the song in the 2018 edition of the Dreènts Liedtiesfestival. The song was selected for the final, but due to obligations with Moorman’s former band Scrum, he couldn’t be at the finals. Singing in his local dialect sounded interesting though, which is why he decided to record the single.

‘Naor Huus’ was not only picked up by local TV and radio station RTV Drenthe, but also by Belgium’s Radio 2. Moorman knew the presenter from his previous band and she saw some definite potential. As a result she played the song. “I was in the middle of a rehearsal with a choir when I said: ‘Hold on, I have to put on Belgium’s Radio 2’,” says Moorman with a huge grin. “Suddenly you hear a Belgian voice say softly [imitates Flemish accent] ‘Leon Moorman, he sings in Drents…'”

The circumstances drove him to having to pick between continuing with Scrum or his Drents career. He picked Drents, which made further actions rather self-explanatory. He entered in the 2019 edition of the local songfestival, writing ‘Knooin’ for this edition. He won, which gave him a ticket to the songfestival of minority languages in Italy. “I always said: Duncan Laurence represents seventeen million Dutch citizens. I sang in Drents, representing the Lower Saxony area, which has almost thirty million inhabitants.” He bends over the table and makes large gestures as he finishes his speech: “I now Eurovision is much more famous, but despite that people thought: ‘Hmm, he isn’t wrong’.”

The comparision with Eurovision is just the tip of the ice berg when it comes to Moorman’s driveness to sell Drents to everyone. “If you look at a pioneer of Drents pop music, Daniël Lohues, then you’ll see that he’s played everywhere where you can play. Even at the west coast,” he stresses. “I dare say that I, potentially, could play an equally strong show. Potentially. A lot of it needs to grow, but my songs are versatile and very poppy. It’s Drents that doesn’t mumble and that makes it very approachable. Even in the Randstad (the area of big cities near the west coast) they like it.” Moorman lists examples such as Radio Vlaardingen, where he has his own show once a month.

© Gilles Tijmes

“The fact that I have fans in the whole country and have gotten play time in Germany and Belgium gives me the idea that I can do a lot with this. You need to take smaller steps though. A lot of people think I’m crazy, but in the year I really went for Drents music, I’ve made steps that I never expected to take. I say my dreams out loud. They’ll be floating somewhere in the air, most likely, but if you don’t dare to say anything they’ll never happen.

Leon’s Drents
Sometimes people ask me what my lyrics are about. In Italy I was asked what ‘Knooin’ actually meant. “They had attempted to translate it to ‘beautifully wasting time’. In the arts it often happens that you put your passion and energy into something for which you never get your money’s worth in return. I don’t live for the money. My fun is at the forefront and that is knooin.” The word is a clear example of how Leon’s interpretation and choice of words shape his songs. He uses a lot of his own rules: “If you look too much at the rules, you’ll only limit your freedom. Drents is a language that I speak, which is why I sometimes pick a word that isn’t an official Drents word. It’s my story after all.”
Despite The Netherlands streaming more and more often in their native language, Moorman still notices that his own language is a bit misunderstood. “I have a feeling that a lot of people still think they can’t understand Drents or other dialects. Not all Dutch people understand English either, but a lot of people pick it because it seems more approachable. I just think it’s because Dutch is too confrontational.” There’s still hope though. “I definitely notice a shift in this area. The time is now to show people what I can do.”

© Gilles Tijmes

© Gilles Tijmes