The new Profolk Sampler "Test the Best" gives a good starting point for a wee outlook on the current state of the German folk music scene. The contributors of this CD are brought into a context within the German scene. The feature is joined by a review of the CD and the chance for our readers to win one of five CDs of this sampler.
"Germany is not that big." That's how the introduction text for the 1999 Profolk Sampler starts, written by the Profolk President Michael Kleff. Maybe this is a not too fortunate first statement in a German album - Germany with the biggest population in Europe, the third biggest surface of the EU; with its European partners having fears that Germany will dominate the EU economically.
Still, this sampler has a lot to offer, presenting a culturally open, regionally aware folk music scene in Germany.
Although it is not stated in the CD, this year's sampler focusses on German regional cultures. Most of the best folk musicians and bands in Germany take a regional perspective in their music, often singing in their own local dialect or - as Germans say - "Mundart". Especially Northern and Southern German regional folk music is popular.
In Northern Germany the local dialect is Platt or Low German. The sampler directly starts with - for our taste - the best representants of German folk music in general: The East Frisian band Spillwark. This band combines in its music destinctive Frisian music and self penned lyrics with influences from Eastern Europe, the British Isles and Southern Europe. It's great stuff - also the chosen energetic tune on this sampler.
One of Spillwark's members is Wolfgang Meyering, who is also part of the quartett Prüss, Meyering, Leiss & Schmedeke, four men playing on mandolin, tenor horn/flutes, concertina and percussions innovatove acoustic music that defies to be pigeonholed. The third and most popular representants of Northern German folk music are the comedy folk trio Liederjan. Here they are playing a more serious song, with emphasis on the beauty of the music - a side of the boys that is often forgotten, as Liederjan are best known as being only funny and crazy...
We move on to the south; to Swabia, another region that has its own strong dialect. Swabian is completely different to Platt, as well as its traditions and music are destinctively different. Thomas Felder is a singer/songwriter/guitarist/hurdy gurdy player who sings his own songs in the Swabian tongue. Saiten Fell & Firlefanz are another Swabian act, performing in both the Swabian dialect and German. We find on the sampler a lovely traditional German waltz of this band, arranged in a more medieval-kind of way. Like most German folk bands, they have influences from most parts of Europe.
A bit further south, and we are in Bavaria with its strong and very typical traditions. Kerberborthers Alpenfusion were winners of last year's German folk newcomers competition. Their music style might be called Bavarian/Alpine Roots Jazz, and we have to admit, we don't like it at all - sorry!
A very welcome addition on this year's sampler is a representant of a minority in Germany that even most Germans do not know, the Sorbs. The Sorbs are a folk living in the "far east" of Germany, in parts of Saxony and Brandenburg. They have their own language (totally different to German) and culture which is threatened by extinction. The songwriter Pittkunnings dedicates his work in the Sorb language to preserve Sorb customs and traditions. He sings traditional Sorb songs as well as his own ones. The song "Les" on this recording is a quiet and reflective song that he has written himself.
We appreciate also that once again Klezmer music is well represented - in our opinion very important to represent the German folk scene. Klezmer has today once again a very lively scene in Germany, with many brilliant bands around. Di Grine Kuzine from Berlin do some energetic Klezmer music, on clarinet/soprano sax, accordion, aousaphone, trumpet and drums - highly enjoyable. Helmut Eisel & JEM are one of the best known Klezmer representants in Germany. Helmut Eisel plays clarinet, and his music is backed by double bass and guitar.
There is a lot to discover in the German Klezmer and Jiddish scene.
What else can be found on this sampler and in the German scene? European and World music for example. This time only represented by four acts, European music makes up maybe the biggest part of the German scene. Celtic music is strong in Germany - Irish and Scottish music as well as Breton music. For Breton music, An Erminig is a recommended trio, coming from the German Land Saar and the French neighbour region Lorraine. They play great dance tunes and songs from Brittany, and play their music also regularly in Brittany. Get Wet come from Northern Germany, and their music is even more Northern - they play quality Scottish rock music.
One of the highlights of the whole CD are The Transsylvanians with Eastern European/Hungarian gipsy music. It is wild and energetic folk rock music, and this one piece makes the listener want to experience the band in live!
At the same time, Germany is a very multi-cultural country - we are lucky to have that many different cultures around us! One of the biggest cultural groups that has found a home in Germany is the Turkish culture. Roland T. Pracken & The Style Bandits are a truly mulit-cultural band headed by Roland, a Dutchman singing in Turkish language!
Finally, there are two guitar pieces - the one by Scotsman Ian Melrose living in Berlin, the other by the guitar duo Nassler & Schneider. The rest on this CD is a bit away from folk music, but still you might call it roots music: Die Roten Rüben playing Roots Punk'n'Roll, Ballhaus Nuevo with rootsy chansons and finally Roger Matura with something between Blues and Bob Dylan.
Although this sampler is all in all a quality mixture of Folk and World from Germany, it makes us every year a bit sad that we have never discover a great new act representing German folk music traditions. Those that were featured, were either the well known ones, or did not have the appeal of something new and great, or did not represent German traditions . It seems that most of the other European countries have currently more enthusiasm for their own culture and trad music than Germany. But we will keep on searching!
Finally a bit of criticism to the Sampler. The design is once again very well; the quality booklet containing comprehensive information on the featured bands and musicians. The album features many diverse music styles, and of course not every listener will like everything. Still, the order of the numbers could be better. Maybe the rocky numbers, being on the edge of roots music (like Roger Matura, Get Wet, Die Roten Rüben, Ballhaus Nuevo), would be better "on the edge" as well, meaning at the end of the CD. In our opinion, with them being inbetween the sampler, the CD becomes very inhomogeneous.
Also, the title "Test the Best" lacks a bit in imagination. And, finally, all three of the up to now published sampler could have been given a theme. But they did not have - neither in the introduction nor in the title itself. A theme of a (promotion only) sampler makes it for the journalist much easier to have a feature, and it is - in our opinion - more honest.
While Profolk Sampler No. 1 was simply a representation of the German folk scene, No. 2 had a very clear focus on world music from Germany, with 10 of 18 numbers that could be classified as World and/or European music. That's fine - but why don't you say that there is this focus? This time, there is a focus on regional cultures, with 7 out of eighteen numbers representing German regions - but no word in the introduction, and just a boring title "Test the best"...
Anyway, all in all this is a good sampler with some superb and some less superb music - for every listener there will be differences what is classified as superb and less superb. The only sad thing is once again, that this is a promotion-only CD - meaning that you can't buy it in shops. Which is a shame!
Still, you have two possibilities to obtain this CD: Either you are journalist or festival organiser and you e-mail Profolk to order your copy, or - if you are not in that business - you have the chance to win one of five CDs in the FolkWorld competition!
Photo Credit: (1) Spillwark; (2) Street Dance in Leipzig (3) Perambulator; All photos by The Mollis
Drawing (Hens) by Annegret Haensel; more infos on the artist at her homepage
Win Profolk CDs
You can win one of five copies of the Profolk 1999 Sampler CD "Test the Best" which is not on regular sale!
We ask you to say in a few words what first springs to your mind when thinking of German Folk/ Deutschfolk Music. The answer may be funny, a prejudice or a serious answer. Two of the five CDs will be given to nice, funny or good answers - selected by the editors. The other three winners will be drawn as usual - also if you do not give an answer.
Answers until the 05.06.1999 to FolkWorld.
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