When we think of Brazilian music we think of samba, bossa nova, a cool breeze on the beach and the Girl from Ipanema. But what do you think of when you think German music? Do you think of laid-back melodies and velvety vocals? Or more industrial staccato and alveolar trills?
Whatever your particular associations may be, today I’d like to share a few German songs that are in many ways the antithesis of the type of sound commonly associated with bands like Rammstein. I’ve added both some classics and contemporary titles and some really strange stuff as well. Also you can find a link to the full albums on Spotify for a deeper dive and the lyrics below.
Ready? Put on your Kopfhörer and let’s go!
Freundeskreis – Leg dein Ohr auf die Schiene der Geschichte
Circle of Friends – Put your Ear onto the Rail of History
album: Quadratur des Kreises
genre: conscious rap
This song by Stuttgart hip hop group Freundeskreis, from the acclaimed album Quadratur des Kreises (squaring of the circle), was released at the start of a new wave in German hip hop, just two years after the wildly popular release by one of the founding groups of German hip hop Die fantastischen Vier (also hailing from Stuttgart) released their album Lauschgift, and one year before the Absolute Beginners‘s Bambule made Hamburg hip hop a household name.
It’s all about encouraging a general historical awareness: the remembrance of injustices, the tyrannies of war, chemical weapons, Tchernobyl etc., and it’s perhaps the song that firmly cemented Freundeskreis’ reputation as a politically and socially aware group that fused intellectual ideas with smooth grooves.
Even if you don’t like Freundeskreis’ somewhat didactical approach to storytelling (lyrics below) it’s simply a great laid-back tune.
Ich war ein ABC-Schütze in der Zeit um ’80
Man las von ABC-Geschützen in der Zeitung, ein Streit entfacht sich
I was a school starter in the time round ’80
You read about ABC weapons in the paper, a conflict is ignited
Jan Delay – Vergiftet
After the overwhelming success of the aforementioned Hamburg hip hop group Absolute Beginners, one of their members, Jan Delay recorded a solo album which proved once and for all that reggae in German isn’t only possible, but for some strange reason sounds much better than you’d expect.
The lyrics are admittedly easier to follow than the somewhat highbrow approach of Freundeskreis, and may actually provide some good practice opportunities for German learners because the whole song follows the template of “X doesn’t like Y, because he/she/it is poisoned.” Enjoy this Gift to humanity!
Sam mag den deutschen Hip Hop nicht, denn der ist vergiftet
Und Jochen mag keine “Klingeling”, denn das ist vergiftet
Sam doesn’t like the German Hip Hop, because it’s poisoned
And Jochen doesn’t like no “ding-a-ling”, because it’s poisoned
Eins Zwo – Die Omi aus dem ersten Stock
“One Two – The Granny from the First Floor”
album: Gefährliches Halbwissen (“Dangerous Superficial Knowledge”)
Since we’re reminiscing about the golden age of German hip hop around the turn of the millenium, here’s another absolute classic for you, by yet another legendary Hamburg hip hop group. It’s this heartfelt little vignette about an old lady that lives upstairs from rapper Dendemann:
Wir wohnen nicht Wand an Wand nur meine Decke ist ihr Boden
Bald im ganzen Land bekannt die Omi von oben
We don’t live wall to wall, just my floor is her ceiling
soon to be known all over the land, the granny from above
Tua – Bettler und das Meer
“The Beggar and The Sea”
genre: electronica (?)
After our stroll through the past, here’s an atmospheric track by Tua, who originally started out as a rapper as part of the group Die Orsons but soon expanded beyond the narrow confines of the genre with atmospheric textures and stream of consciousness storytelling.
Schlaf holt mich am Tag ein, wie jemand, der mir dringend noch was sagen will
Ich folge der staubigen Straße bis runter zum Meer
Nachts treffen sich alle, die ich kenne in meinem Kopf und reden gleichzeitig
Sleep catches up with me like someone who wants to tell me something urgently
I’m following the dusty road down to the sea
At night all the people I know are meeting in my head and talking simultaneously
Antoine feat. Teddy Teclebrhan – Lohn Isch Da
“Paycheck is Here”
The Eritrean-born German comedian, actor and comic Tedros Teddy Teclebrhan first came to my awareness because of this video titled “Einbürgerungstest” (citizenship test) which was a mockumentary interview with an immigrant (played by himself as Antoine) who is generally clueless about all things German, e.g. when asked who the German chancellor is, says: “Something … Angelo? Angelo Merte?”
Some people fell for it of course and started sharing the video as proof for failed integration, while Teddy was counting clicks and giggling away. Anyhow, back to the song in question, in which Teddy raps with a Swabian accent (what do they put in the water in Stuttgart?) and horridly hilarious grammar, which I shouldn’t share with you guys. But this catchy tune about … the joy of … pay day (?) is just too good not to be shared.
Ey, Arbeitsamt hat Geld auf Konto gewiesen*, hey
Lohn isch da
Ey, unemployment office transferred money on account, hey
paycheck is here
*Correct: “Das Arbeitsamt hat Geld auf das/mein Konto überwiesen”
Yung Hurn – Bist du Alleine
“Are you alone?”
genre: cloud rap (I guess)
We’re continuing with one of the youngest artists on this list, Yung Hurn from Vienna, whose music and artistic personality divides opinion like no other. Some people say he’s a braindead addict who can barely get through a song without stuttering, others say he’s a musical genius on the level of Drake and Kanye West.
One thing that’s for sure though: the formula of Viennese accent + Autotune + sharp beats and smooth pads creates a very unique sound. When it comes to the lyrics, they are somewhat … plain. Lack of skill or sheer genius? Judge for yourself!
Sie werden mich nie verstehen
Ich will Diamanten auf mei’m Ring
Diese Zahl auf mei’m Hals, sie glänzt
They will never understand me
I want diamonds on my ring
This number on my neck it blings
Deichkind – Richtig gutes Zeug
“Dykechild – Really good stuff”
album: Wer sagt denn das?
Deichkind originally started out as one of the better known Hamburg hip hop groups in the late 90s. But while many of these groups got older and chucked their baggy pants, Deichkind slowly morphed into a strange Dadaist electropunk art project with infamous stage shows, outrageous costumes and the strangest music videos. Their 2019 album “Wer sagt denn das” is a brilliant (or insane?) reflection about fake news, consumerism and vapid party culture.
The song “Richtig gutes Zeug” is a persiflage on the mind-numbing consumer society of the 21st century in which we talk about common commodities as if they were holy relics from some Indiana Jonesian temple.
Mega schwer zu kriegen, wirklich schwer zu kriegen
Richtig gutes Zeug, richtig gut
Musst du mal ausprobier’n, ausprobier’n
Richtig gutes Zeug, richtig gut
Scheint ganz gut zu sein
Da musst du richtig lange suchen für
Richtig lange recherchier’n
Super difficult to obtain, really difficult to obtain
Really good stuff, really good
You gotta try this, try this
Really good stuff, really good stuff
Seems to be pretty good
You really gotta look hard for it
Research really hard
Other highlights on this album include Wer sagt denn das?, Dinge, Keine Party and if you still need to get that Teutonic fix after all, also check out their brachial hymn on the Thousand-Year-Long Empire Of Beer.
What are your favorite German bands and songs? Add them in the comments below!