A high-octane performance by messianic pop star Xavier Naidoo and his band Die Söhne Mannheims in Tel Aviv served as a rousing testament to the rise of religion in German pop.
Xavier Naidoo thanks God for the music
It's not often that the Tel Aviv opera house attracts this kind of audience. But when German band "Die Söhne Mannheims" took to the stage this week as part of the 2005 celebrations marking forty years of Israeli-German diplomatic relations, the grandiose building reverberated with the enthusiastic shouts of thousands of young fans who've probably never even heard of Verdi.
"Who's from Tel Aviv?" yelled frontman Xavier Naidoo in English. Half the audience's hands went up. He gave it another go. "Who's from Germany?" This time, there were cheers from every corner. The crowd was made up primarily of Israeli kids who have lived in Germany, and young German Jews who have emigrated to Israel. And they all loved the show.
Make some "noiz"
Obviously, a concert by one of Germany's most popular bands is a rare occurrence in Israel, but the fact that the band feels a deep affinity with the country is even more unusual. The band even named their debut album, which was released in 2000 and sold over one million copies, "Zion," following it up with another named "Noiz" -- Zion spelt backwards.
"Our faith means a lot to us," said band member Michael Herberger. "And it's a great honor to appear in the Holy Land. As devout Christians, we have a very close bond with Israel."
The band kicked off the show with a revamped version of the ancient Hebrew prayer "Adon Olam," which brought down the house. Singing in Hebrew was obviously an inspired move.
"It wasn't so difficult," Naidoo was quoted in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. "Hebrew isn't so different to German -- a lot of the vowels sounds are similar."
Not many performers would have braved a trip to Israel given the volatile political situation. But Naidoo isn't just any old pop star.
"I wasn't scared," said Naidoo, whose roots are South African and Indian. "I was before I got here, because I'm influenced by all the media images. But I have friends who live here, so I saw how they deal with it all -- and basically they live the same way we do, just with a different consciousness."
It's a right-on approach that's typical of Naidoo. He might be one of Germany's best-selling recording artists, but you're more likely to catch him brushing up on bible studies than trashing hotel rooms. He even likes his Christian name to be pronounced to rhyme with "savior."
His success means he gets to rub shoulders with the likes of Kylie Minogue and Enrique Iglesias, but Naidoo is still something of an anomaly in the glossy world of bubblegum pop. Even though hits such as "Ich kenne nichts," (I know nothing), co-written with WuTang Clan frontman RZA, ensure he's a regular fixture at the top of the German charts, he's always eschewed the standard trappings of the successful pop star.
But what really sets his blend of R&B-influenced soul apart from other radio-friendly rock offerings is that it's steeped in Christian fervor -- a far less common phenomenon in Germany's music industry than in the US, where no self-respecting hip hopper would dream of accepting an award without profusely thanking God.
Naidoo's music is shot through with a missionary zeal that's impossible to overlook, with lyrics that draw heavily on fiery Old Testament imagery. Moreover, he refuses to succumb to record company pressure and write in English -- a stance that put him in the vanguard of the recent movement calling for a radio quota for German musicians.
A new social and religious conscience
Although he's best-known for his solo career, his bands "Die Söhne Mannheims" as well as "Brother's Keepers" also command a loyal following, and have put their high profile to good use with regular appearances in anti-fascist campaigns. These musical collectives are cultural melting pots, with members proud of their various ethnic Jamaican, Zimbabwean and Ethiopian roots, to name but a few. Their musical style is equally diverse, merging rap, soul and R&B -- and sung, of course, in German.
Their success has helped spawn a new generation of artistes who wear their faith on their sleeve, including the cherubic looking pop star Ben (whose first big hit was called "Engel," or ""Angel"), one of this year's candidates for the German knock-out round of the Eurovision Song Contest, "Beatbetrieb," whose entry was called "Woran Glaubst Du?" or "What do you believe in?," Frankfurt-based band "Glashaus" and dancehall reggae act "Gentleman" from Cologne.
But there's nothing reactionary about this new brand of contemporary Christian rock. Despite their evangelical message, these young musicians are firmly anti the religious establishment. So don't worry -- rock's not quite dead.