Ballads against bigots: German singers weigh in on upcoming election

BERLIN, Ella Joyner (dpa)- German musicians are coming together for a new initiative against populism before elections in September. As would be expected, their weapon of choice is their music.
German pop music is not exactly renowned for gaining traction overseas. For many abroad, mention of the country's musical scene is more likely to bring Wagner or oom-pah bands to mind.

Yet, within the national context, many German musicians wield considerable clout. Now, a number of artists are using their influence to spread a message against political extremism - in a nation where many feel they know the ramifications of nationalism and brutality all too well.
Thus, artists from across the musical spectrum have produced original tracks for an online platform, Demotapes, along with a video explaining the message of their song. The initiative is designed to strengthen democracy and challenge populism.
Founded under the motto "Jedes Tape eine Demo" (Each Tape a Protest), the initiative was established by Hamburg musician and producer Anne de Wolff and producer and director Torsten Eichten.
De Wolff told dpa that she was compelled to begin the project after the election of Donald Trump as US president. "The American election clearly showed what happens when too few people are active and engaged or go and vote... how fragile democracy is."
Misgivings over political extremism are especially strong in Germany, where plenty of people still have first-hand memories of the Nazi dictatorship of the 1930s and 1940s and the Soviet puppet government that ruled eastern Germany for decades after World War II.
Germany will hold federal elections on September 24. Most commentators expect current Chancellor Angela Merkel of the Christian Democratic Union to win once again. Nonetheless, the rise of populist voices, such as that of the party Alternative for Germany (AfD), has alarmed many Germans.
Demotapes has attracted contributions from big hitters and smaller acts. Probably the best-known name within Germany is rock band BAP. The Cologne-based group re-recorded their politically charged 1982 cult track "Kristallnaach" especially for Demotapes. The song deals with the first major pogrom of Nazi Germany, the so-called Night of the Broken Glass, or Kristallnacht.
Many acts have used their tracks to call for calm and reasoned debate, or offer messages of positivity and unity. Pop singer Ingo Pohlmann's song, entitled "Gelassenheit" ('Calm' or 'Composure'), is one such example.
Others have used their songs to critique specific aspects of German politics. East German rock outfit Silly have come up with a piece on Germany's role as a major arms manufacturer and exporter called "Wie lieb ich so ein Land?" (How can I love a country like this?). Neo-soul group Rhonda contributed a song on the G20 summit called, "Der Gipfel der Frechheit" (The Summit of Cheek).
Some tracks have gone even further, directly addressing (and perhaps even antagonizing) right-wing populists and their supporters. The name of indie troupe How to Loot Brazil's track leaves no doubt as to where their sympathies lie: "Dumbsucker."
The original compositions offer an insight into the political concerns of German creatives - or at least those who oppose populism. Demotapes has already published more than 20 submissions to its website, which states that artists of all levels of notoriety are welcome to contribute.
De Wolff believes that music unites people and that, as the "language of feelings" it shows that there are other ways forward. She says musicians can set an example to their listeners, and inspire them to think critically.
What would she like to achieve with the project?
"We would like to counteract some of the populist and aggressive tones that seem to be getting louder and louder everywhere at the moment...[E]veryone can contribute to a loving and respectful future in their own way."

Friday, September 1st 2017
Ella Joyner

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