German rap duo Kollegah and Farid Bang are anti-Semitic. So why did they just receive Germany’s prestigious ECHO Award?
In one song, they vow to “show up with a Molotov.” That sounds all well and good, right? Rappers speak about burning things down all the time. That’s nothing new. But, then, rappers Kollegah and Farid Bang say that they plan to “make another Holocaust.”
In another song, they describe their bodies as “more defined than Auschwitz prisoners.”
Anti-Semitism in music isn’t anything new. In fact, here at Digital Music News, we’ve covered white nationalist artists that proudly boast their hate-filled sentiments about other races, including Jewish people. Much to the chagrin of these groups, we’ve exposed these hate songs freely available on Spotify and YouTube.
Yet, we find ourselves asking today: Why has a popular German awards show suddenly decided to present the clearly racist duo with a high-profile award?
Here’s what happened. On April 12th, at the ECHO Music Awards in Berlin, Kollegah and Farid Bang received a coveted ECHO award. The equivalent of earning a Grammy here in the States, the duo earned the award for best hip-hop album. They also received a nomination for best album, but ultimately lost to Ed Sheeran.
Before the ceremony, ECHO organizers brushed off complaints from multiple Jewish organizations in the country. According to them, Kollegah and Farid Bang’s anti-Semitic lyrics merely expressed “artistic freedom.” It didn’t venture into hatefulness.
No, of course not. How could speaking negatively about Auschwitz survivors, and even making another Holocaust, be hateful? Organizers said that the nomination would stand.
The ECHO Music Awards immediately received widespread condemnation after Kollegah and Bang’s win. In fact, during the show, Campino, lead singer of German punk rock band Die Toten Hosen, criticized organizers on stage. After accepting a separate award, he said,
“In principle, I consider provocation is a good thing. But we need to differentiate between art as a stylistic device, or a form of provocation that only serves to destroy and ostracize others.”
Campino immediately received a standing ovation from the audience.
On Twitter, Heiko Mass, Germany’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, lambasted the ECHO Music Awards. Highlighting that the awards ceremony took place on the same day as Holocaust Remembrance Day, he lamented,
“Anti-Semitic provocations do not deserve awards, they are simply disgusting. That such a prize was handed out on Holocaust Remembrance Day is shameful.”
Following widespread criticism, the German Music Industry Association, BVMI, issued an apology.
“We as a board estimated all wrong and wanted to promote the artistic freedom at the wrong place. We will take care that such things will not happen again in the future [and] we deeply apologize for all of that to you and all other people whose sentiments we have hurt.”
Of course, BVMI had previously defended ECHO organizers’ stance of the rap duo’s lyrics as “artistic freedom.”
Very few people have yet to accept BVMI’s ‘sudden change of heart.’ Billboard notes that pop stars Marius Müller Westernhagen and Klaus Voormann, as well as classical pianist Igor Levit and conductor Enoch zu Gutenberg, have returned their ECHO awards. Famed Beatles collaborator Klaus Voorman has also returned his lifetime achievement trophy.
In addition, Monika Grütters, Germany’s Minister for Culture and Media, blasted the trade organization for their failure in allowing the nomination.
“Obviously it is necessary to pause and to reflect about their own artistic entitlement and ethic standards. The freedom of arts is guaranteed in Germany, but it crosses borders where Holocaust victims are being scorned. The term artistic freedom unfortunately is rather stretchy. Here it is not a question of taste, but about the responsibility of the art and the artists for our community.”
Former Sony executive and ECHO founding member Thomas M. Stein said,
“Regarding rap, you cannot put everything on the gold scale. I think that Kollegah and Farid Bang are predestined anti-Semites… They have presented the song and now they have to live with it.”
In response to the controversy, BMG announced that it would donate €100,000 ($123,465) to combat anti-Semitism in German schools. Along with Banger Musik and Alpha Music Empire, the music group distributed the rap duo’s winning album, Jung, Brutal, Gutaussehend 3.
In a statement defending the duo, BMG Worldwide CEO Hartwig Masuch said,
“Kollegah and Farid Bang have repeatedly made it clear on the internet and speaking in public that they are not anti-Semitic, and they have apologized for any distress caused by the lyrics in question. BMG stands for values such as artistic freedom, creativity and diversity. We take the current discussion as an opportunity to publicize our clear stance against anti-Semitism and are determined to actively engage on this issue.”
Kollegah and Farid Bang have also taken to social media to defend themselves. They urged music listeners to “judge individuals by their character only.” (Of course, just don’t read their lyrics). In an attempt to calm the situation, Bang issued a public apology to Auschwitz survivor Esther Bejarano. Kollegah promised Jewish fans “lifelong free entry” to the duo’s concerts.
Yet, don’t expect the fallout to come to an end anytime soon. Influential German singer Peter Maffey called for BVMI CEO Florian Drücke’s firing.
Christian Höppner, President of the German Cultural Council, has also left the ECHO advisory council. Lambasting the awards show, he stated,
“The council had to decide between artistic freedom and the non-admission of the freedom of art. This decision was a mistake.”
Featured image by SelfMade Records (CC by 2.0)