Cultural scene

The Sound of Migration

Brothers Keepers; Copyright: www.thommy-fotography.de/ SONY BMGBrothers Keepers; Copyright: www.thommy-fotography.de/ SONY BMGA distant vision already existed at the beginning of the 1980s. The feeling that times were changing with the advent of the Punk and New Wave era prompted euphoric chroniclers of the scene to ask themselves what it would sound like if the kids of the migrants were to pick up their instruments and do their own thing.

Daf; Copyright: Volker BüttnerAt that time, there was much speculation about a possible new sound from (West)-German rehearsal cellars, a sound which no longer simply copied the role models from England or the USA. After all, Gabi Delgado-Lopez and Robert Görl from Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft (DAF) had just produced the rapid-firing electro-beats of their "Kebabträume", a song from Berlin, then still the walled city. Social reality, however, was different. In the Italian, Greek or Turkish communities there were as yet no points of contact to these pop trends or avant-garde ideas. DAF's song-line "We are the Turks of tomorrow" remained nothing more than a catchy soundbite.

Hip hop echoed the attitude to life

A far more lasting effect was achieved by the first wave (Old School) of American hip hop which, from 1982/83, swept through Europe with break-dance, graffiti and ghettoblasters. Although the commercial successes of Grandmaster Flash ("The Message") or Kurtis Blow ("The Breaks") soon faded, the messages and codes of the US ghettos, as conveyed in hip hop films such as Wildstyle or Beatstreet, echoed the attitude to life of second-generation "guest workers". The New School, which emerged from 1986/87, intensified this enthusiasm. In the youth centres and suburban clubs hip hop established itself as a major music genre. The traditionally open character of this multi-ethnic sub-culture, inviting allcomers to join in, led to a creative rivalry between the rappers and the breakers. Particularly in the regular jamming sessions, this developed into nationwide meetings of the crews, which at the same time assumed the function of non-commercial talent shows. At the end of the decade – the Berlin Wall had just fallen – it was only a question of time until musicians with recording contracts emerged from this ethnic motley crew. Within the scene there was great surprise when, of all groups, Die Fantastischen Vier (i.e. The Fantastic Four) landed a first contract in the music industry with their Stuttgart party rap song. The major success in the charts of their pop hit "Die Da" triggered a controversial debate about "selling out" and "German rap". The pioneers of the suburbs felt robbed of their music culture.

Political Statements

Advanced Chemistry: Copyright: Frederik HahnAlmost at the same time, the striving for independent marketing also led to numerous releases on indie labels. In 1991, Fresh Family from Ratingen near Düsseldorf focused with "Ahmed Günduz" on the experiences of Turkish factory workers in Germany. In 1992 the group Advanced Chemistry from Heidelberg cast a critical look at the stigmatisation of ethnic minorities in their maxi "Fremd im eigenen Land" (i.e Strangers in their own country"). The racist attacks in Rostock, Hoyerswerda and Mölln intensified the discussion of this subject, and also led to close co-operation with the structures of the punk underground, as shown, for example, in various joint performances or the 1993 compilation "Kill the Nation with a Groove".

What is remarkable is that not one of the original hip hop crews with a migrant background later managed to achieve long-term success. Das Cartel, a combination of Turkish crews from three German cities, was celebrated in Turkey and even played in football stadiums in 1995; but after this the team soon disbanded. The multilingual pioneers Microphone Mafia from Cologne had no choice but to return to the underground scene after their initial successes. Not until 2001 did the Afro-German rap combination Brothers Keepers - with Afrob, Torch, Ade, Tyron Rickets and super star Xavier Naidoo - land another great chart success after the xenophobic murder of Alberto Adriano with "Adriano... Last Warning". Although the next project Sisters Keepers was distinctly less successful, the musicians continued their anti-racist campaign even without releases.

Kool Savas; Copyright: 2005 BMG Subword; Photo by Katja KuhlIn April 2005, in a new constellation, there appeared the album "Am I My Brother's Keeper": a bridging to the reggae scene (i.a. Gentleman, Eased von Seeed), which was continued with the single "Will we ever know", released at the end of the year – with a tribute from Patrice to the 21-year-old Oury Jalloh, who burned to death under mysterious circumstances in a police cell in Dessau. Yet social or even political statements were no longer desired for the widespread marketing of hip hop. The current success stories of the German-Turkish or German-Arab rappers such as Kool Savas, Azad or Bushidoare engendered by means of gloomy beats and deliberate taboo- breaking in the lyrics. Political incorrectness is generally accepted as part of the deal. The bad-boys image is for the mostly under-age fans far more important than the respective ethnic background: battle cries and gangster rap on the fast track. Nowadays, working with upcoming young bands has increasingly become the domain of the new labels established by the hip hop celebrities. Both Romanian-born Amar and "Ruhrpott-King" Ercandize, whose album "Verbrannte Erde" (i.e. Burnt earth) – released in spring 2007 – features Turkish rhythms, are on the books of Kool Savas' Optik Records in Berlin. At the same time, Azad's Frankfurt label Bozz Music, together with Sezai, his partner in rhyme, appeals for Turks and Kurds to treat one another with respect. The more hardcore scene operates independently of the mainstream.

Transcultural testing ground

Muhabbet; `In deinen Straßen´ (2007); Foto: Cem GünesAlong with hip hop, the crossover productions have also long since established themselves in other genres. With his 2007 album "In deinen Straßen" (i.e. In your streets), producer and musician Muhabbet has long since established his own style out of a fusion of Turkish arabesque songs, R&B and hip hop. R&Besk is his name for his soulful ballads. Since his move to Berlin, Muhabbet has also been closely linked to a creative community through the Plak Music label. Together with Ali Güven from Nuremberg and Kenan from Cologne, Plak's goal is to produce (Turkish) pop. A transcultural testing ground for commercial music projects has already developed around soul and R&B, documented by "Mein Stern" (i.e. My Star) by Ayman (2000) as well as by the comeback in 2005 of the German Serbian Morrocan Nadja Benaissa from Frankfurt who in 2007 teamed up once again with the newly formed No Angels pop group. Moreover, since the advent of the reggae sound system, such as Sillywalks from Hamburg, a productive dialogue has developed with the music scene in Jamaica. The successes of Tilmann Otto alias Gentleman, a clergyman's son from the Rhineland, were followed by soloists such as Patrice or the Berlin sound collective Seeed, who again – see Brothers Keepers – are linked to the politically committed hip hop crews. Almost 25 years after "Kebabträume" by DAF, the pop scene clearly reflects that the Federal Republic has become an immigration country.
Ralf Niemczyk
has been writing since 1982 for underground and mainstream journals on music, pop culture, sport and urban planning.

Translation: Heather Moers
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion
November 2005, Updated in March 2007

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