13 hours of unreleased music by soul legend Marvin Gaye discovered in Ostend


The legacy of world-renowned American soul singer Marvin Gaye, quietly cherished for decades by the Ostend-based Mestdagh family, is being opened up to the general public. It is a genuine treasure trove; the haul includes 30 tapes containing no fewer than 66 demos of new songs, talk, laughter, phone calls with Stevie Wonder, and jam sessions, along with diaries, 216 documents, and some 50 costumes and accessories.

What did Marvin Gaye have to do with Ostend, you ask? Freddy Cousaert was a man with a passion for music; he was also a soul and jazz manager, DJ, concert promoter, dance club owner, businessman and Ostend resident. Through word of mouth, he tracked down Marvin Gaye in a dingy London nightclub. The singer of I heard it through the grapevine was in a bit of a mess in the late 1970s, with debts, marital troubles, and drug and alcohol addiction. Cousaert invited him to Ostend to perform at the Casino Kursaal and to unwind. The boat carrying the soul icon docked on 14 February 1981. To everyone's delight, he enjoyed the hospitality at the Cousaert home for several weeks. One of his subsequent homes, Residence Jane, Albert I Promenade 77, is where, on the 5th floor, he wrote his monster hit Sexual Healing. 

One day in Moere, a borough of Gistel about 15 km from Ostend, Marvin Gaye saw a charming, listed 18th-century villa for sale. While waiting for the official sale, the Mestdagh family (who owned it) allowed him to move into the White House, which was how the property was known. He apparently felt right at home and the neighbours were also delighted with the new resident. In the evenings, you could hear him rehearsing, he loved the local brass band and was completely absorbed in the simplicity and intimacy of village life. The international superstar was a quiet and affable man with no airs and graces. The White House at 16 Moerdijkstraat was Marvin Gaye's last home in Belgium and he lived there for several months. In August 1982, however, visa problems forced him to leave Belgium in a hurry. While, in the US, the promotion of his album also awaited him.  

After his departure, the Mestdagh family found all of his household belongings, along with what transpired to be many valuable items. This included the 30 tapes containing 13 hours of never-released music. For 40 years, they treasured them without a word but recently, in response to a BBC report, they submitted the treasure trove to Alex Trappeniers, a lawyer specialising in the music industry and copyright law. He has talked in terms of a time capsule with full-length songs and one that could even rival Sexual Healing. Marvin Gaye may well have allowed the Mestdagh family to have the entire estate but to recompose and release the music, which may represent one or even two new albums, requires the consent of the deceased soul icon's children. Negotiations are ongoing. 

On 1 April 1984, the day before his 45th birthday, Marvin Gaye was shot dead by his father in Los Angeles after yet another argument.