Dutch Language Blog

Dutch Music: Songs about Life Posted by on Jan 9, 2020 in Uncategorized

While watching a movie about the life of the famous Dutch singer André Hazes, I came across a term that I had not heard of before: het levenslied.

Photo taken by Marco Raaphorst found on Flickr.com with license CC BY 2.0


Literally translated, levenslied means a song about life. The tradition of levensliederen began in the early 1900, and stems from the French chanson. Below is a definition of levenslied from the website MuziekEncyclopedie.nl:

Het levenslied is een lied waarin zaken uit het dagelijkse leven worden bezongen. De tekst (altijd standaard opgebouwd uit coupletten en refreinen) gaat over de schaduwzijde van het bestaan en heeft bijna altijd een moraal. Het levenslied roept een sentimenteel of melodramatisch gevoel op.

These songs are meant to be sentimental and usually offer some sort of moral or lesson. I would say these are very similar to American country. Levensliederen are quite popular and are often playing at the traditional bruin cafés or kroegen. Despite their melodramatic themes, levensliederen bring about a happy atmosphere.

Singers of the levensliederen

Like I previously mentioned, levensliederen have been around for more than 100 years, and the genre has changed a lot over time. One of the earliest singers of this genre is the Flemish singer Bobbejaan Schoepen (1925-2010). Below is his song Cafe Zonder Bier.

Another early pioneer was J.H. ‘Koos’ Speenhoff (1869-1945). He was a singer, songwriter, illustrator and painter. Below is one of his songs with lyrics. This version is not with Koos’s voice, but the newer recording makes it a lot easier to understand and follow along.

Zangeres Zonder Naam was another famous singer of this genre, and was nicknamed the queen of the levenslied. She was born in the town of Horn in Limburg and later moved to Maastricht where she sang at cafes. She recorded her first album in 1957, and in 1959 had her first gouden single or hit with the song Ach Vaderlief, Toe Drink Niet Meer. The Zangeres was known to get political in her songs; she sung against racism, homophobia, and the Vietnam War. Below is the video of her first hit.


André Hazes

André Hazes (1951-2004) is perhaps THE most famous singer of levenslied. After a few singles during his childhood, he was a singing barman at a local kroeg, and during this time, he wrote his first hit Eenzame kerst or Lonely Christmas. In 1977, he released his first record titled Zo is het leven and from there on, he became one of the most famous and known singers in the Netherlands, particularly in the levenslied genre.

The 2005 movie Bloed, zweet en tranen tells the story of Hazes’s life. Spoiler alert: it was tragic. He suffered abuse growing up, developed a drinking problem early on, and he was extremely anxious and insecure. His last years are plagued with the accumulation of all these problems. You can watch the trailer for the movie in this link.

I have to admit that I am not a big fan of André Hazes or the levensliederen, however, I can see the appeal. There is something enjoyable about going out with friends and finishing the night singing De Hoogste Tijd by André Hazes.

De Castellijn schenkt nog wat in
En kijkt dan op z’n klok
Het is de hoogste tijd
Iedereen drinkt snel z’n glas leeg
De laatste wordt getapt
Een jukebox liep plots leeg
Het is de hoogste tijd wordt er geroepen uit de hoek
De borden liggen klaar
Ach mag ik vanavond ploffen vraagt een mannen stem
Betaal jij morgen maar

Het is tijd, de hoogste tijd
U wordt bedankt voor weer een avond gezelligheid
Dag mevrouw dag meneer
U komt hier toch weer

Do you like levensliederen? Is there a similar genre where you live?

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About the Author: Karoly Molina

Since I was a little girl, I was fascinated with languages and writing. I speak English, Spanish, Italian, Dutch and a little bit of French. I am a writer, reader, language teacher, traveler, and a food lover! I now live in The Netherlands with my husband Riccardo, our cat Mona, and our dog Lisa, and the experience has been phenomenal. The Dutch culture is an exciting sometimes topsy-turvy world that I am happily exploring!