Travellin' Companion 3 :A Musical Journey to GERMANY
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Various German artists
Travellin' Companion 3 : A Musical Journey to GERMANY
16.99

The Travellin' Companion GERMANY lifts the lid on the German roots music scene, from medieval music, via the scene's playful ways with pop song and chanson, from the continuing developments in traditional folk music to what's really happening in the realm of hip-hop. Then there is klezmer, waltz, polka and ­ a taste of something unique ­ an act that is nothing less than a preservation society for one of Germany's most defining instruments, the Bandonion.

Each of this compilation's contributors share something in common: a sense of the unconventional and creative when putting their thumbprint on the German tradition, a delight in experimentation and an openness to other cultures. This is a multi-tiered gallery of roots music, the origins of which go deep into a multiplicity of traditional forms, grounded in the present, gazing out to the future.

Tracks and samples:
1. 17 Hippies : Gelb zwo drei 2:29
2. Das Blaue Einhorn : Ich wil sich spilen 3:17

3. Di Grine Kuzine : Bavarski Cocek 2:18

4. Bayrisch Diatonischer Jodelwahnsinn : Demoskopen 2:38

5. Jams : Waterdösken 3:02

6. Element of Crime : Ganz leicht 4:29

7. LeckerSachen : Lass mich in Ruh (Radio Version) 4:02

8. Erci E : Weil ich 'n Türke bin (Radio Version) 3:34

9. Grenzgänger : Fetter Michels Vatterland 2:52

10. Elster Silberflug : Chume Geselle min 3:08

11. U.L.M.A.N. : Hupf auf 4:25

12. Bavario : Scharr 3:12

13. Mahones : Der lachende Vagabund 2:49

14. Polkaholix : Im Grunewald is' Holzauktion 3:25

15. Leipziger Folksession Band : Ballade von der

Unzulänglichkeit menschlichen Strebens 2:48

16. Schäl Sick Brass Band : Prinz von Arkadien 4:27
17. BandonionFreunde Essen : Tango Laudino 3:34

 

Band Notes:

1. 17 Hippies : Gelb zwo drei 2:29

  600-plus gigs later, ranging from Berlin's notorious freebie Hippie-Haus-Tanz to some mightily uproarious appearances in Italy, France, Hungary and the USA, the Hippies have never bothered splitting hairs where the folk, dance and techno scenes were concerned. No matter whether the Magnificent Seventeen are 15 or 28 strong, no matter whether they are on some festival stage, whooping it up at a wedding or in some dimly lit dive, they mix charmingly arranged folk and an anarchic rock'n'roll energy.

2. Das Blaue Einhorn : Ich wil sich spilen 3:17

 

Once upon a time, this quartet named itself after a song-fable by the Cuban songwriter Silvio Rodrigues in which a magic horn captured the songs of the nights. Das Blaue Einhorn (Blue Unicorn) have a similar game plan. Theirs involves netting listeners and concert-goers alike. For over ten years this group from Dresden has dispensed traditional, chansons, Gypsy, klezmer, tango and fado fare. The upshot is a music and a repertoire that matches raw, elemental sounds with tender and nigh-whispering sounds that express the voices of joy, sadness, pleasure and despair in music.

3. Di Grine Kuzine : Bavarski Cocek 2:18

  The Berlin-based Di Grine Kuzine have been playing "Music from the heart of Europe" since they popped out of the egg in Berlin in 1998. Rooted in jazz, ska, punk, highbrow music and chanson, the five members of band members are on a European trip that blurs the boundaries between klezmer and Balkan rhythmicality. In a typical Di Grine Kuzine performance, they deliver a variety of dances, time signatures, moods and emotions. Their appearances are a combination of celebration, dance and improvisation - and in Alexandra Dimitroff they have a singer capable of seducing an audience or reducing one to tears.

4. Bayrisch Diatonischer Jodelwahnsinn : Demoskopen 2:38

 
This Bavarian trio is definitely not three peas in a pod. Each is an individual and each brings an assortment of different instruments to the yodel-madness (Jodelwahnsinn). Alongside zither, concertina, alpenhorn and clarinet you might hear balafon (an African xylophone), musical saw or frying pan. The group's skill lies in its deft combination of music and musical Kabarett. The result is contemporary folk music with socially conscious lyrics which is about as far removed from bogus commercial Volksmusik (folk music) - a staple of German broadcasting - as it is possible to get. One thing that unites the trio is its willingness to catch its audience on the hop. The ways they do this are many and various. It might be a jab of blues or Brahms, a flash of Russian folklore or some authentic Southern German titbit like a Zitherländler.

5. Jams : Waterdösken 3:02

  Another once upon a time in a faraway land called the German Democratic Republic in a city called East Berlin, a folk scene blossomed. Back in 1980, somebody did a poster to advertise a gig. It read Jo, Andy und Michael Sessions. A thousand weddings and an acronym later, what started out as a Platt (Low German) pun on jam and jamming is something else: a Low German beacon. Despite JAMS' varied backgrounds in rock, Tex-Mex, music from the Balkans and klezmer, the 2/4 of polka holds a special place in their hearts. 'Waterdösken' is, as the expression goes, a little thing written by the band's Wolfgang Meyering, who is also keeping alive this largely coastal tradition with his own fine Platt band, Spillwark.

6. Element of Crime : Ganz leicht 4:29

   
Is there any German band that matches Element of Crime's achievements and chameleon abilities? After five English-language albums, at the beginning of the 1990s some bright spark had the inspired idea to switch to German. It was a turning-point for the Berlin-based outfit. At its heart, Element of Crime was a rock band but it was more than that. The quartet found its voice through chanson, vaudeville elements and Brechtian savvy -- and its singer Sven Regener. Element of Crime works most convincingly when its mainly acoustic instrumentation of trumpet, guitar and drums paints backdrops for Regener's yearning love songs. Their themes deal over and over again with farewells and, put poetically, the tragic beauty of breaking up.


7. LeckerSachen : Lass mich in Ruh (Radio Version) 4:02

  LeckerSachen's arithmetic is simplicity itself. Folk + hip hop + pop = FolkHipPop. This Cologne band initiated many German folkies, for example, festival-goers at the Tanz & FolkFest Rudolstadt into the ways of hip hop. On the other hand, they introduced hip hop fans to tin whistle. LeckerSachen are at ease with both the traditional and today's trends and this marriage of ideas and wit, manifests itself in different ways. They have a history of surprise collaborations, including working with a string trio or one of Kardinal Frings' 'raps'. Their name suggests a promise of sweet things. All is not sweetness and light for LeckerSachen. 'Lass mich in Ruh' (Leave Me In Peace) is a gloriously bitter account of betrayal and break-up bordering on mental breakdown.

 

8. Erci E : Weil ich 'n Türke bin (Radio Version) 3:34

  Song has played a key and sometimes sorry part in the German social struggle. Whether it was insouciance of its historic Gesellenlieder (journeyman's songs), the rallying cries of the 1848 Revolution, or the state-sanctioned or oppositional songs of the twentieth century, political song has played its part down the ages. Erci E. - a former student of political science - unrepentantly of Turkish origin, unrepentantly German, points to an alternative future in socially conscious song-making in Germany. Commandeering racist stereotypes for his own purposes, with 'Because I'm A Turk' Erci E. has earned his place in the book of political song. Born and raised in (West) Berlin, Erci E. was a member of Turkish HipHop pioneers 'Cartel' and works as a radio DJ for various Berlin-based stations like Radio Multikulti.

9. Grenzgänger : Fetter Michels Vatterland 2:52

  Like many of the acts here, Michael Zachcial's Grenzgänger manifest an openness to the world borne out not only through their lyrics but also in their musical shadings. Their very name means 'Border Crossers' but it has a whiff of contraband and smuggling to it. Although there are tinges of Kabarett (cabaret would be too Frenchified), folksong occupies a central place in their music. Despite his 1841 poem, 'Das Lied der Deutschen' (Song of the Germans) providing the source of the country's national anthem, Hoffmann von Fallersleben (1798-1874) was a poet with a chequered career. In an ironic turn, in 1842 he lost his professorial post in Breslau because of his Unpolitische Lieder (Unpolitical Songs) (1840/41). Here the band from Bremen drag his sometimes heretical lyrics back into the present.

 


10. Elster Silberflug : Chume Geselle min 3:08

 

  One festival above all others transformed West Germany's appreciation of what song culture could mean. Burg Waldeck was a turning-point in the country's stormy love affair with its own heritage. On the Burg Waldeck stage, Liedermacher (songmakers) such as Hannes Wader, Franz-Josef Degenhardt and Reinhard Mey acquainted audiences with the rosy future of German folk, rather than dwelling on its disastrous, then-recent past. Inspired, a music student in Göttingen called Ulrich Freise began a quest, looking through old songbooks for a new folk music. At the beginning of the 1970s, he founded one of period's most influential groups. Elster Silberflug took minnelied and ballad, early baroque songs and original material cast in a romantic vein to their heart. Later came Celtic experiments and experimentation with technology exploring 'grooves and loops' or plain loopy grooves. Following a creative hibernation, they bounded back in 1988, finding an audience in Germany's quasi-medieval fairs, a moveable fixture in many German Altstädte (old towns).


11. U.L.M.A.N. : Hupf auf 4:25

 

  Johannes and Andreas Uhlmann got off to an early start when they won the coveted Newcomers Prize at Germany's largest world music festival, the Tanz&FolkFest Rudolstadt in 1994. It was simply unfair for teenagers to have so much talent and potential. The Leipzig-based duo toured abroad before the brothers sweet-talked their then-fourteen-year-old, hurdy-gurdy-playing cousin Till Uhlman and the percussionist Ulrich Stomowski into swelling their numbers. The quartet recorded an astonishingly mature and modern-sounding folk-dance album ("Acoustic Power") and went on to play major festivals at Sidmouth, Roskilde and Kaustinen. Unique to this compilation, U.L.M.A.N. (they said it stood for Un Limited Music And Noise) is the only act currently in retirement. The three Uhlmanns are currently keeping their young-old bones limber in the Leipziger Folksession Band.


12. Bavario : Scharr 3:12

 

  With its zither, clarinet and eardrum/drum-skin infidelities, the music of Wolfgang Netzer's German-Brazilian Mutual Admiration Society occupies a place somewhere between arrangement and improvisation, between Munich in Bavaria and Rio (hence the name). BavaRio provides an unprecedented means of transportation between Rio's Sugar Loaf Mountain and Zugspitze in the Alps. They move minds as well as bodies and, on the way, dismiss reservations about the marriage of folk, classical music and jazz, between European dance and Brazilian samba.


13. Mahones : Der lachende Vagabund 2:49

 

  The therapy that the Cologne-based Mahones have been administering to their audience since 1987 is measured out as a compound of Irish tradition and Rhineland cheerfulness. The Mahones consciously describe themselves as the inheritors of the early Pogues' bequest. From stage or on disc, they serve a potent cocktail laced with ska, punk, bluegrass and polka. On this disc, they reach beyond their nigh compulsive love for Celtic music to their own native pop music with a Fast Folk-style version of 'Der lachende Vagabund' (The Laughing Vagabond).


14. Polkaholix : Im Grunewald is' Holzauktion 3:25

 

 
 
Polka's emergence from Bohemia at the beginning of the 19th Century left its stamp across most of the neighbouring countries. Before the middle-class and penny songsters took it to their modish bosom, it represented uproar and provocation. However hard pensionable brass bands attempted to play polka it out, its 2/4 found a new transfusion of lifeblood in the States and Eastern Europe at the end of the twentieth century. Polkaholix are at the crest of a new wave that includes such bands as Apparatschik, Folkabbestia und Chudoba that are celebrating the rebirth of this dance music. Party on.


15. Leipziger Folksession Band : Ballade von der Unzulänglichkeit menschlichen Strebens 2:48

 

   The Leipziger Folksession Band's name implies that the collective just gets together every now and then to blast a new music capsule out of Leipzig into Outer Space. Fair enough. It might be an album. It might be a concert or, a Leipzig-accented jam session. They are guaranteed to unearth morsels ­ imagine some Chinese buried egg delicacy ­ buried for maybe 300 years. They are also firmly planted in the German folk revival of the 1970s through the work of Zupfgeigenhansel, Fiedel Michel or Folkländer. They are no exercise in nostalgia, however. The collective still gently, if fiendishly, beckons in the next generation and, as this harrowing example of political wit about the inadequacy of human striving from Brecht and Weill's adaptation of John Gay's The Beggar's Opera shows, they have lost none of their edge.

16. Schäl Sick Brass Band : Prinz von Arkadien 4:27

  For years the Schäl Sick Brass Band has cherry-picked the best that the musical traditions of the Balkans, the Mediterranean and closer to their Cologne home have to offer. To give an example of Raimund Kroboth's touch, in one song about a woman on the till at the supermarket the band blended the tomfoolery of a Fasching carnival reveller with a sprinkle of Bavarian solidity and a measure of Algerian rai. The 'Prinz von Akadien' is another matter altogether. Originally a light operetta hit by another Cologne-born artist, Jacques Offenbach, here it gets an alternative interpretation, courtesy of Kroboth's multicultural brass band.

17. BandonionFreunde Essen : Tango Laudino 3:34

   
In 1848 a chap from Krefeld named Heinrich Band wheezed life into a new instrument called the Bandonion. Beyond the Ruhr people adopted the spelling bandoneon. Nicknamed the Bergmannsklavier (miner's piano), it found a market in working-class districts, especially in Germany's industrial heartland, the Ruhr region. Later it was transported beyond Germany to become a defining instrument of Argentinean tango. Between the wars, another tradition arose. Hundreds of Bandonionorchester or bandonion orchestras sprang up in working-class districts. Essen's Friends of the Bandonion are the last of the once-numerous, evening-and-weekend Bandonionvereine (bandonion societies) still playing the original 144-note darlings that once streamed out of Heinrich Band's Alfred Arnold-Werke. Inevitably, alongside its waltzes, marches, rumba, Ländler and Rheinländer, this 18-strong band plays tango too.

 

HOW WALLS COME TUMBLING DOWN....

However impenetrable the cultural membranes between traditions may look, the dividing walls usually prove more porous than the ancients ever thought possible. Or maybe, with the passage of the years, the walls disintegrate. Germany never was the mythical monoculture (in any cultural, linguistic or musical sense) that its many generations of inward- or outward-looking nationalists imagined. Historically speaking, industrialisation, modern transport and communications eroded many regional differences. Yet, as this Travellin' Companion shows, Germany is now home and host to considerable diversity, much of it rooted in regional culture, in home-grown popular music like Schlager (pop songs), bandoneon music or indigenous dance forms like Zwiefacher, or hot imports like hip-hop, klezmer and tango.

If the music that acts such as the Schäl Sick Brass Band, Bayrisch Diatonischer Jodelwahnsinn, LeckerSachen, Erci E. or Di Grune Kuzine are making testifies to anything, it testifies to the porosity of Germany's musical and cultural boundaries. Since Reunification, the changes to the nation's popular and folk music seem to be arriving faster and faster. (Not that people haven't been saying that for centuries.)

Like any figurative river, German music reflects the terrain and topography that it passes through. And every landscape it flows through affects the river's colour, speed and chemistry. Anyone who has ever lived near a border knows that cultures rarely conform to the solid lines on a map. Even without bilingualism or languages blurring into each other, the lure of the other (or cheaper shopping) that side of the border has a habit of breaking down differences. But what breaks down differences better than music? (Skip sex.)

Kierkegaard captured an essential paradox when he pointed out that life is lived forwards but can only be understood in reverse. Once a musician hears a new music, a new sound or lick, it cannot be 'unlearned'. Because ideas of whatever sort carry no passports and never recognise or respect frontiers, musical ideas dart through border checkpoints. JAMS is a prime example. JAMS, a long-established folk band from Mecklenburg in the northeast of the country heard what Hundsbuam Miserablige (the Miserable Curs) were doing down south. The Dog Boys were telling stories with a staunchly, unashamedly Bavarian voice. Hundsbuam radicalised JAMS' approach, inspiring them to go still further and use even more Platt (Low German) ­ a mainly working-class, generally coastal language ­ in their music. "Waterdösken" demonstrates how successful that process can be. One example. That's all.

 

At another extreme, in a polished, politicised and pointedly Hochdeutsch (High German or Standard German) statement, Erci E. catalogues and cheekily confronts the prejudices of being of Turkish extraction in Germany, about seething about prejudice, about 'taking blame' for German unemployment, about being qualified to sell vegetables "because I'm a Turk." Substitute Tamil, Friesian, Pakistani, Albanian, Irish or whichever minority fits your own village's particular prejudices to get a flavour of what Erci E. is delivering in a civil rights anthem as pointed as anything Britain's Fun<Da>Mental ever delivered.

Never underestimate the abilities of music and language, or food, to transform people's taste buds and worldview. This is music within and outside a tradition. It is music on the move. The good news is that the old days are gone. Fasten your musical safety belts. This may not be what you expected.

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