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25th ECHO awards pop on upswing

Rick FulkerApril 8, 2016

In an evening of few surprises, German Schlager songstress Helene Fischer took home four of the renowned trophies, while singer-songwriter Joris garnered three. The gala highlighted German-language pop on an upswing.

Helene Fischer at the ECHO show. Copyright: picture-alliance/dpa/C. Bilan
Helene Fischer accepts one of her multiple trophies from Max RaabeImage: picture-alliance/dpa/C. Bilan

Reflecting sales success, the ECHO, awarded by the German Phono Academy - the Cultural Institute of the National Music Industry Association - is seldom a cliffhanger. Stiff, scripted dialogues and flat acceptance speeches leave nothing to chance. But the event is a snapshot of the most successful acts on the world's third-largest music market: Germany ranks just behind the US and Japan.

A sense of national pride was palpable in the "Berlin Messe" convention hall Thursday evening (07.04.2016) when Helene Fischer, as in the years before, nabbed multiple ECHOs. The Schlager queen with the soaring, sentimental voice took top honors in the category of Crossover for "Weihnachten," an album of Christmas songs. That same compilation came out on top in the DVD Blu Ray slot and as Album of the Year - in which Fischer edged out even the formidable Adele. To top it off, she was crowned Best National Live Act. The Christmas album's producer Alex Christensen, who worked with Helene Fischer in tandem with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at London's Abbey Road studios in the 20-month project, was declared Best Producer.

Sarah Connor at the ECHO awards. Copyright: picture-alliance/dpa/C. Bilan
She sings in German now: Sarah ConnorImage: picture-alliance/dpa/C. Bilan

Long gone are the days when German musicians had to sing English to be taken seriously. That was illustrated by 26-year-old Joris, whose real name is Joris Ramon Buchholz. A virtual unknown three years ago, he landed one of the major hits of the year: "Herz über Kopf" (Heart Over Head), soon to go platinum. His performance of the song was a highlight of the nearly four-hour awards ceremony. On the strength of his album "Hoffnungslos Hoffnungsvoll" (Hoplessly Hopeful), Joris was named Best National Newcomer. He also won the Music Critics' Prize and garnered the most call-in votes from the TV audience for the Radio Prize.

Sarah Connor, a German mega-star 15 years ago who flopped when she tried singing in her native tongue instead of English, made a second attempt last year, this time with great success. Her album "Muttersprache" (Mother Tongue) won her the title Best National Rock/Pop Female Artist. Her acceptance speech was one of gratitude most of all to her second husband Florian Fischer, "the first one who believed that there could be something like an artist in me."

DJ Robin Schulz at the ECHO awards. Copyright: picture-alliance/dpa/C. Bilan
All dressed up for the evening: DJ Robin SchulzImage: picture-alliance/dpa/C. Bilan

The awards were given in 31 categories, including Hit of the Year - going to Lost Frequencies for "Are You With Me" - and National Act Abroad, taken by DJ Robin Schulz. The 22-time platinum artist also came out on top in the Dance National category for his track "Sugar." Best Music Video went to German songmaster Udo Lindenberg, no stranger to the ECHO ceremonies over the years, who then performed his prize-winning song "Durch die schweren Zeiten" (Through Difficult Times) live.

In the Rap/Hip Hop slot, relentlessly stern-faced Kollegah came out on top, noting with some irritation in his acceptance speech that music's most rapidly growing genre should come up only towards the end of the show.

A tribute Roger Cicero at the ECHO show. Copyright: picture-alliance/dpa/C. Bilan
A tribute to recently-deceased jazz singer and ECHO nominee Roger CiceroImage: picture-alliance/dpa/C. Bilan

As if to prove that the ECHOs are not an exclusively German affair, 25-year-old James Bay flew in from England to give a performance of "Chaos and the Calm." Discovered four years ago while performing in a tavern, he gave an impassioned speech advocating live music - and was celebrated as International Newcomer. Iron Maiden took top honors in Rock Alternative National. Bestowing the award, German crooner Max Raabe contributed one of the evening's rare moments of humor, observing that not all the bands nominated in that category could make it to the show as they had either lost their hearing or were in police custody.

One awkward moment was the acceptance speech of Frei.Wild's frontman, greeted at first with isolated boos in the auditorium. The band took the Rock Alternative National distinction, and the speech was one of defiant triumph: the South Tirolean band with its "proud to be German" lyrics had been invited to the awards show three years ago - and promptly uninvited when several other acts refused to share the stage with them. The line between national pride and xenophobia remains troubled territory in Germany, and the band's messages have been described as coded and ambiguous. But there they were onstage at last, "for the sake of our fans, honesty having won out in the end, the prize proving that it is right to resist exclusion." Was it self-victimization, or a truculent pride? When the moment had passed, MC Barbara Schöneberger seemed all to eager to move on.

Frei.Wild at the ECHO awards. Copyright: picture-alliance/dpa/C. Bilan
Frei.Wild manages to make some listeners uncomfortableImage: picture-alliance/dpa/C. Bilan

Finally, German Schlager veteran Roland Kaiser was celebrated for his Social Engagement. Having received a lung transplant, he has strongly advocated organ donation. And honored for Lifetime Achievement: the Puhdys, a band once famous in former East Germany. Selling 20 million disks in 47 years before their farewell performance last January, the legendary east rockers have marked many a milestone in recent German history.