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Home > Main > The Kaktus-Syndrome

The Kaktus-Syndrome

From a German to a European perspective
by Florian Städtler, October 27, 2009

Why German vocal and a cappella music always (or at least very often) has to be more funny than innovative? I had the pleasure to talk about this with Tilo Beckmann (founder of the first German a cappella group 6-Zylinder), Volker Bauer (webmaster of acappella-online.de) and Peter Martin Jacob (Magenta – all about a cappella) at a panel lately.

We came to a first conclusion: Main reason is the “Kleiner-grüner-Kaktus” syndrome, the historic ballast of the immensely popular German uebergruppe The Comedian Harmonists, a weight which became even heavier with the blockbuster movie about the group’s career some years ago.

Without having time to discuss this in depth, we German vocal and a cappella veterans decided, that there must be more than a polka bass line and trivial lyrics in the land of Bach, Goethe and Kraftwerk.

And there is. Not very much yet, but there is.
But only a few know about these things.

The mainstream listener, if he has any awareness of a cappella at all, suffers from chronic Kaktusitis. Most probably, a cappella fans from abroad (hello US, hello Asia!) might presume German vocal music deals with beer + bretzels and is performed in Lederhosn + Dirndl (by the way, you might be surprised, how contemporary German folk fashion can try to be: www.dirndlpunk.de).

Well, it’s probably our job over here to adjust some things and spread the news that there’s something if not a lot to explore in A Cappella Germany, let alone Europe.
And the guys in the rehearsal rooms, at the arranging screen or desk, the choreographers, producers, sound engineers, they all have to do their homework to reach international standard. Remember: We are about twenty years behind when it comes to vocal and a cappella history compared to the US.

On the other hand there are millions (!) of people singing in thousands of choirs and vocal ensembles in Germany alone. And all those people who love to sing together as an expression of social interaction, have just begun to learn about the potential of contemporary vocal and a cappella music.

When talking with Peder Karlsson, singer with The Real Group from Stockholm/Sweden (check out their brandnew, fantastic album!) he surprised me with his opinion, that “Germany is still the single biggest music market in Europe”. Which is true – but we Germans tend to forget about the priceless variety of festivals, promoters, music schools, academies and of course people who love music in our home country!

These talks, which started at the 2nd Vocal Jazz Summit in Mainz Germany in the beginning of October 2009, are going on. Everybody, no matter from what European country, seems to be fascinated about the ongoing development of the young, incredibly colourful European vocal and a cappella scene.

Today the groups that really work on a unique musical profile on an international level without relying on a comedy show to distract from their Kaktus roots are very rare. If you go to the Scandinavian countries, you see how European artists can build something very individual and authentic, combining timeless international styles like jazz, world or funk with the sounds and influences of their home countries. It’s difficult to highlight one group, but listen to the Norwegian newcomer ensemble Pust (www.pust.org) or of course the wonderful Finnish soundscapists of Rajaton (www.rajaton.fi).

Hopefully, many more of these wonderful mixes of regional and international culture will develop in the upcoming years. Vocal Blog will try to be a medium and a mirror for all those who strive to become voices of their own.

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