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French Version

German hip-hop group on tour in Middle East

Rapping about politics for an Arabic-speaking audience, the German hip-hop group Blumentopf - regarded as the 'thinking men of German hip hop' - wanted to be clear. "Don't get us wrong. Our next song is called 'Danke Bush' ('Thank you Bush'). But we mean that sarcastically!"

At their first gig in Beirut, held at the Aresco Palace in Clemenceau on Saturday, the five members of Blumentopf sardonically listed some of the "advantages" of the war in Iraq, such as the revitalization of the Franco-German friendship and the political engagement of young people.

Even those among the audience who didn't understand German got the message.

The concert, organized by the Beirut branch of the Goethe Institute and the Shams Association, was in many ways an experiment. Before Blumentopf performed, Ashekman, a new two-member Lebanese rap group, took the stage.

They delivered songs full of what they describe as "social, political and economic criticism." Their sentiments are expressed in Lebanese dialect and the energetic delivery of their rhyming wordplay is infectious - even among those in the audience who aren't Arabic speakers.

Blumentopf - "Flowerpot" in German - were in Beirut as a part of a Middle East tour sponsored in part by the Goethe Institute. Its aim is to promote German culture and create connections through and with artists and audiences in the Arab world. The tour has been exceptional and sometimes frightening, as the five band members explained.

They were turned back at the Syrian border, they said, due to visa problems. They were scheduled to perform in Amman when the recent terror attacks occurred - one of the bombs blowing up only 500 meters from their hotel. Their concert in Jordan was cancelled and German Embassy staff suggested they leave the country. Finally, arriving in Lebanon, they quarreled with local security forces who wanted them to stop filming with the video camera they were using to document their tour.

The group loved Beirut, nevertheless, and the people they worked with here. They described the Lebanese capital to be "considerably more free-thinking than any other city in the region."

Part of Blumentopf's mission was to work with local talent and in Beirut, that deserving talent was Ashekman. During a three-day workshop, the bands worked together and eventually collaborated on a couple of tracks, including one entitled "Ahlan fi Beirut" - sung in German and Arabic and accompanied by Sarine, an up-and-coming Lebanese female vocalist.

A laid-back hip hop tune, "Ahlan fi Beirut" was performed for the first time at the Aresco Palace concert, and it's hoped it will get some local airplay in the near future.

"Rapping in German and Arabic is a great experience," said Ashekman's Mohammed Kabbani after the gig. "We showed that rap doesn't mean automatically speaking about girls and gunfights, like commercial hip hop is so often related to."

Beirut's various cultural institutes - the Cervantes, British Council and CCF, as well as the Goethe - are planning further opportunities for collaboration between European and local talent, including opportunities for Lebanese bands to travel to Europe. This is good news for both sides - northerners looking for adventure and Lebanese wanting exposure in a lucrative European market.

Amman,12 12 2005
Daniel Steinvorth
The Daily Star
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