German Music # : The Groove Department and die Fantastischen Vier
I was watching an interview with Nikki Sixx on TV a few years ago because I’m white trash. He was talking about how he met his [then] wife. He was at a karaoke bar with some friends, when the DJ called a woman up who wanted to sing Aretha Franklin’s “Respect.” After he saw the skinny white girl approach the stage to the sing that particular song, Nikki Sixx decided to leave. Then, he heard her sing. It was instant love.
Mr. Sixx’s experience parallels my own preconceived notions regarding soul music. When I received the invitation to hear The Groove Department, a funk/soul group made up of music students from Oldenburg, I was more than skeptical. I mean, c’mon. Germans. Soul? I’ve heard these people clap. On the other hand, I had a few Euro and nothing else to do, so I agreed to go.
Much like Nikki Sixx, I was wrong. The Groove Department killed it! The group has 10 musicians and four vocalists. They opened with the Cameo’s “Word Up,” to which they added a verse of their own German lyrics. I don’t think I have to explain why that is so clearly awesome, and it only got better from there. They did Stevie Wonder, Adele, Jamiroquai, and Sam & Dave. At a few points, the musicians wanted to involve the crowed, those who weren’t already up dancing, that is. They started to lead the clapping, but alas, these beats just are not part of their musical heritage. I don’t think the crowd enjoyed it any less because of it, though. I remember thinking to myself, If they do “Superstition,” I can go home happy. It was their second encore number. I went home happy.
Also, if you watch the promo video on their website, know that doesn’t do them justice.
On the topic of soulful German music groups, the first that comes to mind is the iconic hip-hop group, Die Fantastischen Vier, or “Fanta 4” for short. Part of what makes German rap so appealing is that the lyrics are easy to pick out for someone learning German. In fact, I think every German student has a brush with the Fanta 4 mega-hit “Die da?!” in the classroom. (I always use it to introduce demonstrative and relative pronouns.) Fanta 4 is one of my favorite musical groups, German or otherwise. Everyone knows them. The music and lyrics are generally upbeat, and they use a lot of horns for a touch of funk and soul. As with many long-lived musical groups, members of the group have had solo projects with varying degrees of success. Most notable among them is Thomas D, who did the music for Lola Rennt (Run Lola Run). All of you who were into electronic music circa 1999 (who me?) have probably heard this soundtrack,
If this sounds like your kind of thing, or if you’re looking for an introduction to German language or pop culture, I recommend starting with “Die da?!,” “Lass die Sonne Rein,” and “Sie ist weg.” A word of warning: We’re talking about 90s hip-hop here, thus, the videos are ridiculous.