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Things Learned At: Reeperbahn Festival 2017
Yousif Nur , October 16th, 2017 08:33

Raving, football, dabke and a not-so-secret Liam Gallagher show at this year's Reeperbahn festival in Hamburg.

Songhoy Blues photo courtesy of Nina Ivanov

I visited Reeperbahn in Hamburg two years ago for The Quietus, and I don’t often go back to places for the sake of it - but when I saw there was a strong presence of Middle Eastern acts this year, as well as Songhoy Blues performing, I decided I’d spend another few days in the seediest, most debauched strip in Hamburg. Amid schlager, stag dos and inebriated crowds, I took more away from this visit than the last one.

‘World music’ is a lazy term

During a talk about music in the Middle East, musicians Yasmine Hamdan, Walaa Sbait from 47Soul and Shahin Najafi discuss matters relating to the ME region. Cooking Vinyl’s Martin Goldschmidt, who co-founded the first Palestinian Music Expo this year, also joins them to talk about the struggles, challenges and difficulties in reaching out to new audiences. The discussion includes whether ‘world music’ has become a lazy term, with music from around the world lumped into the same category. Martin reflects on how his business partner in the late 80s coined the term, Yasmine and Walaa don’t have a problem with it as such but admits it is something that needs addressing, and there's a conclusion that we perhaps need to rethink what we mean exactly by ‘world music’.

Hamburg warms to 47Soul’s brand of Shamstep, eventually

It takes a bit of time for the German crowd to know exactly what they are listening to or watching when 47Soul launch into their Shamstep (a genre they invented which merges dubstep, electronica and dancehall with the music of the Levantine region), although a few people down in front are dancing traditional dabke movements. With each song, and the band talking about justice for all, freedom of movement and the freedom of Palestine, the audience are more and more engaged until by the end 47Soul has a room full of fans.

Omar Souleyman plays to ravers inside a German bunker

His last album, From Syria, With Love, was produced by Diplo, and no doubt that attracts even more fans and dance music heads to check what Omar is all about in the small hours of Saturday morning. At Ueber & Gefährlich, a club inside a huge former bunker, ravers and revelers dive into Omar’s pulsating beats. Souleyman has been playing shows across Europe for almost a decade, building up a following for his sensational live show. It's interesting to see how he has evolved from being a wedding singer in his native Syria to playing all over the world and becoming an unlikely hero in dance music.

Songhoy Blues have got serious moves

Songhoy Blues are a serious force to be reckoned with. Their frontman Aliou Toure has all the moves and poses to blend in with Malian/West African blues, each song seems to last around ten minutes but nobody cares. With songs as good and loose as theirs, Songhoy Blues are a band nobody can stand still to - even the stiffest of Germans are shimmying and moving during their gig at the Mojo Club. It’s a triumphant show tonight - Songhoy Blues are the best band at this year’s festival.

FC St Pauli are part of the music scene here

You simply cannot separate football and music in a place like Hamburg’s Milerntor stadium, the home of FC Saint Pauli, especially when AC/DC’s ‘Hell’s Bells’ blasts out as the teams walk onto the pitch. St Pauli are more rocknroll than most, with a strong antiestablishment sentiment; their merchandise is the fifth most sold in Germany (quite a feat considering they’re in a division below heavyweights such as Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund) and all profits go towards charities helping others, including refugees and the local LGBT community. After the match, fans head towards the Reeperbahn gearing themselves up for an afternoon and evening of gigs, frivolity and booze.

Liam Gallagher is the worst kept secret in Hamburg

This year’s ‘very special guest’ at Reeperbahn is glaringly obvious to everyone: there are adverts of Liam on promotional double-decker buses and full-scale billboards on buildings - when I ask the head of the festival if the secret guest is Liam, the answer is a smile and a “maybe”. I know I probably won’t get into the show, and I want to see Lebanese electronica artist Yasmine Hamdan so I head over to her gig instead. By all accounts, Liam is “fucking amazing” (I can report that Yasmine Hamdan was also amazing).

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