Young crowds once had their hip-hop; elders had their German folk music show 'Musikantenstadl.' Now, the accordion's burning down the house as bands like Kellerkommando revolutionize folk music.
"We link together the pop music of yesterday with that of today, and are making the pop music of tomorrow from it." That's the confident description accordion-player and singer David Saam has for the musical cosmos of the band called Kellerkommando. "Subversive tradition" would be another apt description - after all, the "Keller" in part of the septet's name is the word for "beergarten" in their home region of Franconia, as well as German for "basement." It's the epitome of subversion.
And then there are the two poles constituting the musical world of Kellerkommando: folk music with traditional songs in the Franconian dialect on the one hand, and youth culture of every stripe on the other, whether it's pop, jazz, ska or hip-hop. Ali A$ embodies it most poignantly: the Munich-based rapper with Pakistani roots offers the greatest contrast to the accordion-trumpet-trombone tradition of German folk music, with his rap lyrics catapulting some of that old beergarten music into the 21st century.
Kellerkommando really does make folk music. About 90 percent of their repertoire are songs sung in Franconia - at fun fairs, in beergardens, in pavilions, or at home. And they often convey everything other than the innocent.
Of course there have always always been love songs in the Franconian dialect, but there are also plenty of bawdy topics such as partying and sex. The lyrics are frequently over a century old, and yet remain modern. Lines like "Keep your mouth shut and don't babble on, the constable is running around outside our home" in this old song about the fear of authority offer a prime spot for squeezing in a rap about a society of surveillance. That same method can be applied to Schlager from the last century. "You're crazy, child, you've got to head to Berlin" is the perfect material for rap that mightily mocks all the hype about the German capital city.
Accordion and hip-hop
The founders of Kellerkommando - accordion-player David Saam and bassist Sebastian Schubert - met while working together in a children's theater ensemble. David had long since been working on modernizing songs in traditional Franconian dialects, while Sebastian was producing hip-hop tracks.
Fusing these musical worlds was more just out of fun in the beginning. But the results were so exciting that the two decided to found a band that could bring their concept to a live audience. They musical mix hits the nail on the head, as their many celebrated appearances at festivals show.
Kellerkommando has meanwhile won the "Creole" Global Music Award for German bands and, via the Volkswagen Sound Foundation, signed onto a major music label. The band has released an EP, with their first album due out soon.
Singing along tongue-in-cheek
Twenty years ago, if a rock band were to play an old folk song or hiking ditty, people would have parodied or otherwise musically decimated them. Nowadays, Kellerkommando peacefully sings German folk music classic "Ein Prosit der Gemütlichkeit" (literally: "Cheers to Coziness") along with the audience.
Demonizing tradition and differentiating oneself from one's bourgeois parents are no longer the aim. The operative word is now "re-appropriation." The band plays a funk rhythm, the attitude is rock'n'roll, and the song sung together works because everyone knows it. It's astonishing how beerhall melodies meld with rap and punk to form a big party feeling, complete with smiling faces as everyone sings along.
Songs for punks and grandmas
Whether at folk festivals or urban parties, in front of a punk or heavy metal audience: people of all stripes and colors, cultures and generations enjoy the fusion of the traditional and pop. Some may call it hip-hop with a sing-along refrain; others may see it as a chance to hear their grandchildren's music. But one thing is certain: it's music that everyone can party to, from a four-year-old child to an 80-year-old grandmother. Folk music has finally reclaimed its power to unite.