Travellin' Companion 3: Germany / 17 Hippies
RootsWorld: Home Page Link RootsWorld: Home Page Link

Various Artists
Travellin' Companion 3: A Musical Journey to Germany
WeltWunder Records (

17 Hippies
Soundtrack zum Film Halbe Treppe
Tyfoo Musikverlag/ SPV (

cd cover Ask most folks about German roots music and worn clichés emerge: smoky cabaret, yodeling, Lederhosen, Alpenhorns, zaftig women, drinking songs, accordions, and battalions o' brass. Yes and no, even if A Musical Journey to Germany, a diverse array of 17 of the country's most popular folk-circuit bands, marches out and promptly dispatches sufficient familiar cultural stereotypes to lull the unsuspecting into some bracing musical discoveries. Irish and medieval strains, over-the-top brass band, in-your-face German-Turkish hip-hop, klezmer, Balkan, polka, tango, waltz, mostly tongue-in-cheek, and always musically astute, A Musical Journey to Germany covers the inventive waterfront, resolutely embracing a multicultural European future that the rest of the planet might do well to note.

The liner notes (in German and English) give brief performer bios, enough to indicate the liveliness of the national folk scene. From Cologne come the Schäl Sick Brass Band, playing a zany Balkan-Alpine fusion ("Prinz von Arkadien" is a stately brass-and-sax waltz), folk-hip-pop sensation LecherSachen (Tasty Things), and the Mahones, inheritors of the Pogues and purveyors of Rhineland-Irish music at its hybrid best. Among Berlin entries are Turkish hip-hop pioneer and former political science student Erci E., whose "Weil ich 'n Türke bin" (Because I'm a Turk), rapped in perfect High German, matter-of-factly punctures every stereotype about Turkish immigrants in Germany, against some jaunty traditional sound samples; Di Grine Kuzine (formed in 1998, named after legendary klezmer fiddler Abe Schwartz's classic song of the same name); and the inscrutable 17 Hippies (more on whom in a minute). Scottish bagpipes in Berlin? Rapping to saz and Turkish percussion? Claw-hammer banjo in Cologne? Not the end, only the beginning of an unexpected, delightfully contemporary introduction to world-roots blends in Germany, well worth repeated listening.

Berlin's 17 Hippies, founded in 1995 as a Cajun-and-early-music trio (the unlikely meld anticipated their polyglot evolution), just kept growing. Indeed, anywhere from 15 to 30 musicians show for any given gig, making 17 Hippies' style and repertoire an incessantly mutating potpourri. Au courant Louisiana and Texas denizens caught the band during their 1998 US mini-tour, which featured a high-profile turn at Austin's South-by-Southwest music confab, and a one-time-only Houston appearance with avant-Texas polka conjunto Brave Combo. 17 Hippies went on to showcase at the 1999 World Music Expo (WOMEX) in Berlin. They have been the subject of a TV documentary on Germany's ARTE (the art-and-culture channel), and have won audiences on tours throughout Europe. At home, 17 Hippies play Berlin-area weddings, baptisms, parties, business openings, and benefits in schools and old-age homes.

With prior releases on German, French and Italian labels, 17 Hippies' latest is the band's own soundtrack for director Andreas Dresen's wistful Halbe Treppe, winner of the Deutschen Filmpreis in Silber (prize) at the 2002 Berlin International Film Festival, and the Silbernen Bären (Silver Bear) Jury Grand Prize at the 2002 Berlinale. Set in the derelict working-class milieu of Frankfurt-am-Oder, a gritty commercial crossroads on the Polish border, Halbe Treppe (the snack bar run by one of the protagonists, around which much of the action unfolds) has become an underground hit, released in 13 European countries. Their music - and the band itself - threads a wacky auxiliary presence throughout Halbe Treppe, whose allusive magical-realist lens poignantly sketches the struggles of two couples and their offspring to negotiate the mundane constraints of family life in post-reunification Germany.

The band's elusive, winning sound reflects the elliptical nature of their instrumental anarchy: accordion, hurdy-gurdy, banjo, guitar, mandolin, balalaika, ukulele, strings, double bass, bagpipes, recorders, woodwinds, brass, assorted percussion, and only the occasional vocal rendition. An eclectic repertoire gives their music a captivating freshness, essaying Bavarian, Swiss, Corsican, Polish and British Isles strains (e.g., a ska-tinged "Sandgate"), Cajun ("Gator's Grin"), French bourrées ("Fische"), Balkan, Gypsy and Jewish tunes ("Die Oros," "Elf-Achtel," "Kolomeyke"), New World folk traditions north and south, neo-funk ("Mad Bad Cat," which borrows the opening brass-and-reeds fanfare from "Goin' Back to New Orleans," plus some evocative plunking banjo), Russian laments ("Gabi's Lied"), waltzes ("Gelb Zvo Drei," "Tanz des Bauern," "El Balado," "Dorfwalzer") and Scottish piping ("Isabeau"). A prescient entrepreneur would do well to take on Halbe Treppe for North American art-house distribution, and to assemble a compilation of 17 Hippies' best recorded work for North American audiences. German roots music will never be (and never was) the same. - Michael Stone

A Musical Journey to Germany available from cdRoots

17 Hippies available from the band

Comment on this music or the web site.
Write a Letter to the Editor

Looking for More Information?

return to rootsworld

© 2002 RootsWorld. No reproduction of any part of this page or its associated files is permitted without express written permission.