When Germany Meets Africa, By Way of American Hippies and British Mods
Only on the rarest of occasions does a compilation like this jimmy its way into the zeitgeist. Only then can it commandeer preconceived notions of what German music should be and steal away into the night with them. Only a CD of this breadth can catapult your flair for unconventional music past your hipster brethren. And only a record label you’ve never heard of (Marina) can compile this album and write, and be right, in the liner notes of the first song that, “From here on in, it gets hip.”
Hildegard Knef kicks off The In-Kraut with a rollicking, autobiographical mod number, “From Here on It Got Rough”. Amplified by an orchestral bombast that surges and swells, Knef playfully leads the listener on her path from the daughter her dad wished was a boy, to her rise as an actor. It’s pure kitsch, but I like the jive she’s kicking, stressing the highs and the funnier Benny Hill-like lows of her career, singing “Sometimes a fig leaf was all that I had”.
Before this, I couldn’t stand German music; never bothered to listen to it either. Exactly what prompted me to review the disc escapes me. It features mostly German musicians gone American hippie or British mod. Why, you ask? Because those two countries owned Germany after World War II, and their hip cultures, transformed by their encounters with Africans, became German culture. This is Germany in blackface, composing white soul with a Negro’s swagger and a hit of acid; an exploration of cool, those gray grooves between black and white.
The In-Kraut finds rebellion in its conformity to forms music the old fuehrer deemed degenerate. It never abandons Germany; it just tears down previously erected color barriers and allows its musicians to mingle. It extols the virtues of hedonistic pleasure in sinewy grooves that propel the body to dance. It creeps into Günter Noris’s “Gemini”, a slaphappy, piano-fueled instrumental number, flowing like a Negro spiritual in the hands of jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis, who inspired Noris.
Elsewhere, songs siphon the free-spirited hippie drug culture through the German experience, as on “Marihuana Mantra” (1970), “Naturally Stoned” (1969), or France Gall’s “Hippie Hippie”, songs that expose Germans to the “turn on, tune in, drop out” mentality that radiated, on some level, from consciousness cosmonaut Timothy Leary.
But the best of these songs send serotonin speeding to the brain in kaleidoscopic waves bursting with vivid colors; the sort conjured by strange feelings and foreign languages. And yet their melodies chime familiar on Marianne Mendt’s “Wie A Glock’n…”, while Fredy Brock’s “Beat It” causes your arms and legs to shake wildly. It’s groovy, wild, swinging soul with sensuous undulations, a deliciously dance-crazy soundtrack to the ‘60s and ‘70s.
Above all, this music is a “fuck you” to the Third Reich. Hitler’s master race be damned; this jazz, this blues the blacks invented and gave to the world, it freed a lot of people from their own slavery. It opened their eyes. That’s what the period from 1966-74 was about: A time for adults to reduce themselves to three ideals of peace, love, and happiness, and whatever would deliver them. And that, more than anything else, is what The In-Kraut delivers, in 20 songs or less.