Chefket concert for students Chefket Interview

© Goethe-Institut London / Magnus Pölcher

From September to October 2016 the famous German rapper Chefket is touring Northwest Europe. During his visit in London, our social media team prepared a few questions. We hope you enjoy reading the interview!

Goethe-Institut: When did you start rapping and how did it all begin?

Chefket: I started rapping at about 13. At that time I was listening to a lot of my sister’s music and one day it was the album “It Was Written” by Nas. I became aware of how complex it was and started to rap along. Sometime after that I started to write songs in English. Eventually I had my own band, I wrote a few songs in German and saw that people didn’t just respond to the music but they really listened to my raps. In English it all sounds great because there are more one-syllable words with have a deeper meaning at the same time. In German it is more difficult, because you have to be really aware of phonetics and the flow of the language. But when it works well, then your listeners will get every word.

Goethe-Institut: So basically you taught yourself to rap, right?

Chefket: Yes, that’s true. The first time I wrote a rhyme was 20 years ago.

Goethe-Institut: Currently you are on tour for the Goethe-Institut and you hold rap workshops for young people. How does this change of perspective feel?

Chefket: In the beginning it felt really strange. I was at a summer school at Middlebury College in North America where people were learning German. The students were supposed to learn the equivalent of one year’s tuition in 7 weeks. Teaching there was really crazy. There were students from Harvard and Opera singers and here I was, trying to explain the German language to these people. That was something completely new for me. But then I realised that this is something I really know, not just the theory put in a practical context. So when students don’t immediately get something or they lack enthusiasm, I am able to approach it from a different angle and come up with loads of examples. This enables me to really motivate pupils. Also, to be a teacher is in some ways similar to getting up on stage. When I enter the classroom, the focus is on me and everyone expects knowledge. After my stage experience I don’t find that so difficult.

Goethe-Institut: Of course we also want to know how the concerts for school classes went so far: Amsterdam, Copenhagen – how was that?

Chefket: Really good! So, people in the first three or four rows were totally going for it and further back it was more of a quiet party – I think. It was really good. Of course it is different than during my own concerts, where people turn up just to see me, with their Chefket T-Shirts and able to sing along to all the songs. The challenge to really get the audience going is bigger. This is also true when we play festivals. We never just get up on stage and play through our program. My band and I always try to really share the experience of the concert with our audience, so that everyone feels that they are a part of it.

Goethe-Institut: If you get the feeling, that a concert isn’t going so well, do you have tricks up your sleeve to change that?

Chefket: I undress.

Chefket Chefket | © Goethe-Institut London / Magnus Pölcher Goethe-Institut (laughing): And that always works?

Chefket: Always. They all run out. (laughs) The trick is to ask questions. To check: Are they even there? Are they listening? The best motivation comes from an interactive experience. For example, when their school friend is suddenly up on stage, that really makes them sit up. If it ever happens, that things feel a bit lame, I try to get them involved in games, to keep them on their toes.

Goethe-Institut: The German language is a big part of our work at the Goethe-Institut. You also work with it. What is your relationship to the German language? Do you see it as a verbal weapon? Or is it rather like a set of rules that ought to be broken?

Chefket: Yes, I think it has often happened that I had the German language in a stranglehold and therefore I allowed new word creations to happen. Or I am thinking I want to break away from all conventions, I don’t want to write rhymes, I only want to create emotions, I only want to write in the abstract. And then that can often happen. For example in the song “Fliegen” I played around with prepositions and I had great fun doing that. Technically, that is not the wildest rhyme, but it shows, how you can play around with the German language. Or what you can do with emphasis. When I say: This guy is always different I say: today he is THIS and tomorrow he is THIS. But when I say: TODAY he is this and TOMORROW this, then he is always the same. You can do a lot with that – it is very subtle. It works, because German is such a precise language – I don’t think I could do that in English.

Goethe-Institut: We have also spoken about your work with pupils: They give you three words and you do what?

Chefket: We do everything together! I say: what is your favourite word? They come up with something like “Heizung” (heating) and it goes from there – we find a rhyme. Then comes the connection, what is my association? That might be “Wärme” (warmth). What rhymes with that… Now we focus on the rhythm and I say, ok, that’s the rhythm, everyone writes something that works, the rows at the back rap along. And then the kids realise that it is not so hard to find a beginning. If you have never written that kind of text before, than that is a way to get started.

Chefket Chefket | © Goethe-Institut London / Magnus Pölcher Goethe-Institut: Would you try that for us? We have thought of three words and maybe you could tell us what you would do with them? They are: Goethe, Smombie and tact.

Chefket: I am not Goethe but like Smombies I am tactful when I touch my screen – like a blind person reading braille…

Goethe-Institut: How long does it take you to write a song?

Chefket: It depends. The song “Fliegen” I wrote very fast. It only took about 10 minutes. I didn’t even write – I just put one sentence next to the other and it was perfect. Somehow it was the perfect vibe. I also used the exact same recording that is now on the album. Sometimes there are lyrics that have taken me some eight years to write and they are still not done. I just couldn’t quite crack it, couldn’t get it right. Sometimes you just have to let go but it always depends on what you are trying to say. Sometimes you get those concept songs, where I make up lots of stuff only to realise that it gets a bit too forced. In the end there might be only one sentence left over and I continue to work with that. It can be hard work but it is also a lot of fun!

Goethe-Institut: Last but not least: Do you have a favourite word?

Chefket: My favourite German word is Nichtsdestotrotz (nonetheless/notwithstanding)

Goethe-Institut: Thank you very much for the interview, Chefket! And best of luck for your tour around Northwest Europe.