Sponsored by the Goethe Institute, the German rap group Blumentopf has embarked on a five-country tour designed to promote interest in German language and culture in the Middle East. Adam Allington reports
Blumentopf (German for flowerpot) took the stage in Nazareth dressed in full jerseys from the local soccer team. Before going on they were warned, "Be prepared: Arabs usually don't dance."
That soon changed, however, when they launched into their single, "Macht Platz.". Buoyed by the 50 or so Germans in attendance - mostly the children of German diplomats and volunteer workers - the crowd gradually moved toward the stage and picked up the flow.
One of Germany's most successful and well-known hip-hop acts, Blumentopf is the first German rap group to tour the Middle East.
A growing cultural presence
Marketing and advertizing for the tour is handled by Germany's Goethe Institute, which is spinning the tour as a kind of German cultural showcase. Blumentopf ads were plastered to the sides of city busses in Nazareth and the groups lyrics are translated into Arabic and passed out to the crowd at all of their shows.
The Goethe Institute has built a growing presence in the Middle East over the years, opening centers in Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia.
"This is the first time we have used music in the Middle East as a way to generate interest in the German Language", said Jörg Süssenbach, head of the institute's music department. Süssenbach sees a group like Blumentopf as a good way for those interested in learning more about Germany to get a taste of both modern German style and perhaps also practice their German.
"Earlier this year we sent a jazz accordion player, Manfred Leuchter, but we feel that a group like Blumentopf might provide some excitement as well as an opportunity for students to both practice and hear what they are learning in the classroom," Süssenbach said.
Another way of generating local interest in a German-speaking act like Blumentopf - who are relatively unknown in places like Ramallah or Amman - is to showcase the group alongside local artists.
Blumentopf's next stop after Nazareth was the holy city of Bethlehem. The concert took place at Bethlehem University and was supported by two regional favorites, a Palestinian Rapper called "George" and female DJ "MC Hannan."
As a finale the five band members prepared a track together with George and MC Hannan, the message of which was how terrible it feels to be locked out of a disco by a brutish bouncer. For the Palestinian kids in attendance it was a rather light metaphor for a subject they probably understand all too clearly.
Security walls, checkpoints and hotel bombings
Despite the message of goodwill and friendship that the tour set out to generate, some rather grim 'signs of the times' could not be avoided.
"Nazareth seemed like a happy city, Bethlehem however, was rather depressing," one band member told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
Bethlehem, unlike Nazareth, is governed by the Palestinian authority, which is still subject to Israeli military control. A six-meter (18-foot) high wall divides the city and permits only limited movement through security checkpoints.
When the group took the stage in Bethlehem it was to a relatively small group of Arab and German students, most of which had EU security passes.
"How can they (Arab students) come?" said George, by way of explaining the small crowd to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. "The Israelis march in and spread fear, there aren't even any busses." In fact most families tend to keep their children off the streets after school.
The following day, Blumentopf arrived in Amman, Jordan. Later that evening they were forced to cancel their shows in both Amman and Damascus and leave the region immediately after a series of deadly hotel bombings killed 57 people.
© DEUTSCHE WELLE/DW-WORLD.DE 2005
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