German Echo Award Laid To Rest Over Damaged Reputation

The Bundesverband Musikindustrie (BVMI), Germany’s trade body for the recorded music sector, decided to axe the country’s most prestigious music prize Echo, first awarded in 1992, over recent controversy involving two rappers allegedly being anti-Semitic.

Farid Bang and Kollegah
BVMI/Monique Wuestenhagen
– Farid Bang and Kollegah
Accepting their Echo in the urban/hip hop category

Kollegah and Farid Bang, as well as Echo’s organizers, got caught up in the center of a full-fledged media scandal in Germany, after both rappers got nominated with an album containing allegedly misogynistic, homophobic, violence-glorifying and anti-Semitic lyrics.

After initially upholding artistic freedom over fundamental societal norms by inviting both rappers to the ceremony and having them perform live, the Echo makers have finally succumbed to public pressure, and announced to scrap the award entirely. The Echo brand has been damaged so severely that a complete restart has become necessary, BVMI writes in a statement.

It wasn’t anyone’s fault, really, as Echo nominees earn their spot on the shortlist for selling a lot of albums. It has always been a prize honoring the commercial success of artists, not their political correctness.

Kollegah and Farid Bang aren’t the first controversial nominees – although their sales figures weren’t controversial at all, the album in question, JBG3, is estimated to have shipped some 150,000 copies at press time, including sales-equivalent streams. In 2013, Frei.Wild, a German rock band from South Tyrol, lost their shot at an Echo due to other nominees protesting their nomination.

Frei.Wild’s lyrics praise their homeland a lot, which is something many German’s are allergic to, as it reminds them of Third-Reich terminology.

The band has always maintained, however, that it has no affiliation with actual Rechtsrock, which is the term used for the very niche genre of music that actually glorifies national socialist ideology. When nominated again in 2016, they were awarded an Echo in the category domestic rock/alternative.

Kollegah’s and Farid Bang’s series of JBG collaboration albums is designed, to a certain extent, to shock with its lyrical content – as are almost all battle-rap albums. Thus, most of Germany’s rap community remained quite calm after the particular line in question was made public.

In the lyric, Bang compares his body’s definedness to that of former inmates of the Auschwitz concentration camp. What makes it a morbid comparison is the fact that Bang was referring to his well-trained, and thus defined, body.

Echo’s organizers upheld  Kollegah’s and Farid Bang’s nomination despite the media outrage over the lyric, social media shitstorms and artists returning their trophies in protest. The Echo Beirat, a subcommittee dedicated to looking at controversial nominations and taking appropriate action, had decided to place artistic freedom above societal norms, emphasizing, however, that it did not condone the lyrical content of the album at all.

This did not calm the masses, and so, on April 24, BVMI decided in an extraordinary session held in Berlin, to scrap the award in its entirety. The Echo is no more, and the same holds true for the Echo Jazz and Echo Classic – both of which have always been decided by jury vote.

Going forward, the main Echo is also going to place much more emphasis on the jury vote, thereby eliminating possibilities of controversial albums making it onto the shortlist by virtue of sales alone.

All three Echo awards are going to be completely restructured, BVMI said in a statement, without revealing any details. It intends to shape the new award in accordance with all artists and the entire industry, and is going to hold a workshop in June to gather ideas.

The next Echo Jazz is scheduled for Mai 31, the Echo Classic for October 14. It remains to be seen how the upcoming editions will be affected.
Meanwhile, BVMI has approached different institutions to have what it describes as a “necessary debate around artistic freedom and its boundaries.”