When you think about German music, I bet a few different beats come to mind. The oom-pa-pa of the polka. The oons-oons-oons of Berlin techno. The heavy metal clashing of Rammstein, or a childlike, ethereal voice counting red balloons. What I bet you don’t hear is the melodic riffs of Caribbean dancehall music. And that’s a shame, because German dancehall music is surprisingly…well, good.
The German Dancehall Music Scene
Where did it come from?
There’s not many sources on this surprising musical migration, but according to the Goethe Institut, reggae came to Germany in the late 1970’s. It was embraced and adopted by several diverse groups of Germans—each clinging to the music for a different escape. For the punks, it was a new form of counterculture. Hippies and German Schlager fans loved it’s exotic appeal.
You’d think the music was brought over by immigrants, but ironically, it was middle-class white kids who “discovered” reggae and “brought it” to Germany.
So those were German dancehall culture’s roots in this country. But it wasn’t until the 90’s that it really started taking off.
Some of the major dancehall players
Though German, Gentleman (born Tilmann Otto, in Cologne) strives for authenticity. He lived in Jamaica for many years, absorbing as much of the rthyms and culture as possible. He wanted to be seen as a real player, and not just a carbon copy; this perseverance paid off with his success back home.
Half Sierra-Leonine and half German, Patrice is known for mixing multiple music styles into one distinctive sound. He’s coined it, “sweggae”—a mix of blues, hip-hop, afro beats, reggae, rock….basically anything that inspires him gets woven into the mix.
SEEED was my introduction to German dancehall music, and as such, I have a deep soft spot for their music. Formed in Berlin, they were an 11-person combo band with a full, bouncy sound—heavy on the horns and drumline. Unfortunately last year, one of the three main singers passed away. Their sound is a mix of hip-hop, dancehall, and reggae, and their lyrics switch between German, English, and the Jamaica Patois. Each of the three singers has also established a bit of a solo career. (My personal favorite is Peter Fox.)
What it’s like to go to a German dancehall concert
In 2019, SEEED launched BAM BAM, their first album (and tour) in seven years. Getting tickets for these shows was insane—for Berlin, where we live, it was impossible. By the time I got the site reloaded, the only shows left were in Stuttgart and Leipzig. So off to Stuttgart we went!
Walking into the Halle, Tim observed, “There are really people here from all parts of society.” And it was true. Older couples in their late-50s, parents with young teens, big groups of friends. It was a much more mixed crowd than I was expecting—and it was definitely a crowd. The show was sold out, and you could tell.
If you think all Germans are cold and reserved, one SEEED concert will change your mind completely. Everyone was loose and dance-y (helped, no doubt, by the surprisingly affordable meters of beer the Halle sold). SEEED’s concert vibe is high energy, with dance routines, dancehall queens, and that live horn section. We had a great time—and by the looks of it, so did everyone else there.