The Dutch believe in André Hazes

A new musical based on the life of Amsterdam folk singer André Hazes has received rave reviews across the Dutch media and reawakened interest in one of the country’s most popular singers who died in 2004.

André Hazes was not the first to sing what the Dutch call levensliederen (songs about real life), but he was the first to bring this genre into the modern era.

At the behest of his first producer, Tim Griek, the accordeons were dropped in favour of a rock band backing. Prior to Hazes, the sound of that other great Amsterdam singer Johnny Jordaan was pure folk. Hazes was rock ‘n’ roll. The musical links the two in the shape of its co-writer, the actor Kees Prins, who played the role of Johnny Jordaan in a tv series.

Sneered at

The levenslied genre has long been sneered at by the middle-classes for its sentimental and trite lyrics, but both the series and now the musical seem to point to a more universal acceptance of its artistic merits and that of its interpreters. Not that the fans ever needed such assurance: both Jordaan and Hazes have a loyal fan base who don’t care a hoot whether they are accepted by the middle-classes or not.

André Hazes was born in the working-class neighbourhood of the Pijp in Amsterdam. His statue stands not two minutes from his birthplace in Gerard Dou street. By all accounts his childhood was not a happy one: his father drank, was violent towards his children and, according to his third and last wife Rachel, Hazes was sexually abused as a child.

His first encounter with fame came when he was a child. Actor Johnny Kraaijkamp heard the eight-year-old sing on the Albert Cuyp street market to earn some money to buy a birthday present for his mother, a levenslied subject if ever there was one. He recorded a single but then not much happened.


After a dizzying number of odd jobs, one of them as a singing bartender, his artistic career took off when he recorded Eenzame Kerst (Lonely Christmas) in 1976. Hazes never looked back and went on to record hit after hit.

His private life was rocky, to say the least. Hazes’ first two marriages ended in divorce and gossip about his boozy lifestyle regularly found its way into the press. In 1991 Hazes married Rachel van Galen, twenty years his junior, who had been an adoring fan since she was fourteen.

The musical chronicles the last twenty years of their lives together as seen from Rachel’s point of view. Those who have seen John Appel’s documentary Zij gelooft in mij, (She Believes In Me, the title of one of Hazes’ biggest hits) know Hazes was a man crippled by insecurity, a prodigious drinker of beer, a negligent father to the children from his earlier marriages and a less than attentive husband.


The marriage survived, however. According to Kees Prins, Rachel simply refused to give up her long-cherished dream of a life as the wife of André Hazes.

Hazes’ self-destructive side continued to make inroads into his health. In 2004 his hearing had deteriorated so much he could no longer sing. He died of a heart attack in the same year.

Last week, Rachel’s father, Jan van Galen, sold the serialisation rights of his book on Hazes to the Telegraaf. Van Galen said he promised his wife on her death-bed he would publish their memories of their famous son-in-law, another scene worthy of a levenslied.

Rachel won’t be pleased. She remains fiercely protective of her husband’s memory and blocked her father’s earlier attempts at publishing the book more than once. Unsurprisingly, he was not invited to the premiere of the musical.

Rachel’s own children meanwhile are involved in a television programme named after their father’s last big hit Bloed, Zweet en Tranen (Blood, Sweat and Tears), which aims to look for the next André Hazes.

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