Shantel's latest album is entitled "Planet Paprika," for him a metaphor for a planet without national borders. It's a description that also suits his music: genre-bending, cosmopolitan and a lot of fun.
Shantel says concerts are all about having a sense of freedom
Wherever Shantel and his band - the Bucovina Club Orkester- go, the party follows. Whether they're on stage in Frankfurt, Istanbul or Tel Aviv, the crowd sings along to the hit "Disco Partizani" and cheers the musicians on - especially their idol, lead singer and DJ Shantel.
But the Frankfurt-born musician takes praise in stride and without any star posturing. It's not rare to see him jump down from the stage and dance with the audience.
It may have been hard not to have a star moment, though, in the summer of 2010 - when Prince and Quincy Jones turned up at one of Shantel's concerts. Legendary producer Jones headed backstage after the show to tell Shantel how much he liked the performance and snapped up several CDs.
Shantel has obviously come a long way from his early days playing at parties in dingy basements. As early as high school, he was the one in charge of putting on the music. When he later set out in Paris to finance his degree in graphic design, he turned to DJing instead of waiting tables or delivering packages.
"It was more exciting of course," he said. "You're around people and can use records and technology to create little sensations."
But right from the start, Shantel was more than a DJ. He already had years of experience as a musician, which helps give his mixes the unique melodies that are his trademark.
"Planet Paprika" is the latest album from Shantel
In the early days, the hammering rhythms of the techno scene in his hometown never grabbed him. After a few years taking in the music scene in Paris, he opened his own club in Frankfurt's red light district, starting out by presenting downbeat electronica to club-goers.
In 2002, Shantel was tracing his family's roots in the Bukovina region between Romania and Ukraine, which various Roma brass orchestras call home. Although the region is no longer the cultural melting pot Stefan Hantel had heard about from family lore, he was captivated by the music.
"I was never out to make Balkan music explicitly," he said. "I just wanted to make music that both satisfied my desire for pop culture but also reflected the rhythms of my childhood."
Shantel's search led him to a new musical language that brings together the East and West - as well as the sounds of the countryside and the big city.
Greetings from Planet Paprika
In 2002, Stefan Hantel - now calling himself Shantel - invited party-goers to what he called the Bukovina Club, which took place at the Frankfurt Theater. It was the first time audiences had the chance to hear his clever mix of electronic beats and traditional arrangements from southeast Europe. The concept turned out to be a hit.
His most recent album, "Planet Paprika" from 2009, once again proved that what sounds at first like regional music is undogmatic and international. The disc's name reflects both Shantel's occasional frustration with being constantly asked about his nationality, as well as his Serbian bandmates' struggles when it comes to getting visas for tours. The band has already had to cancel a number of shows after being denied entry into various countries.
When stopped at the border yet again by German police who began asking him questions in English, the German-born musician answered dryly, "I'm coming from Planet Paprika. I'm doing music without passport control."
"Unfortunately, Planet Paprika doesn't really exist," mused Shantel. It's his vision of a place where questions about nationality vanish: "There, we're all just people."
A taste of freedom
Securing visas isn't always easy for the multi-national band
Although Shantel has now achieved superstar status in many clubs, mainstream media has largely ignored him, much to his chagrin.
"We've gotten famous by way of the Internet," he said. "The big TV stations and newspapers can't quite figure out how to sell us, so they stick us in the Balkan box."
But that's not where he and his bandmates belong, Shantel believes. In his view, they're part of the exciting cross-over movements in Germany. Beyond German borders, especially in southeast Europe, his style has attracted quite a few imitators, a fact the 40-something DJ finds flattering - and amusing.
Despite all the bureaucratic hindrances, Shantel and the Bukovina Club Orkestar are on tour for what seems like 380 days a year. Along the way, the DJ with the trademark fur cap has become an exceptional guitarist and singer.
"I'm completely against messages and overblown political goals; we just want to make good music," Shantel said. "Concerts are a last bastion of freedom. Here, we can get rid of all the stuff that burdens and limits us and just let loose."
Author: Suzanne Cords / gsw
Editor: Louisa Schaefer