Sunday, June 10, 2018

"Militürk" / "Kebabträume": A Brief History

Back in 2007, I bought Fehlfarben's debut album, Monarchie und Alltag (1980), and enjoyed it so much that it was one of the first albums I ever reviewed on this blog. The review might be just a bit naïve, but thankfully some commenters with better knowledge of the era and environment provided some deeper insight. One song on the album always stood out to me: "Militürk", a song with not many lyrics and a cauldron of bizarre and paranoid imagery. In the spirit of my review of "Blaue Augen" by Neonbabies and Ideal, I'd like to go into the details of this song a bit deeper, mostly with links to better-informed bloggers. A word of warning, though: all of the links are in German, just like the song.

An important detail that I didn't mention in the review was that Fehlfarben weren't the first band to perform and record the song. They weren't even the second. As mutanten melodien explains, the song was first recorded by Mittagspause, with lyrics by Gabi Delgado-Lopez while he was still a member, before he co-founded D.A.F. (Deutsch-Amerikanische Freundschaft). The music was supposedly originally inherited from a song by Charley's Girls, whose members Franz Bielmeier and Peter Hein took the tune with them when they formed Mittagspause. Hein brought the song to Fehlfarben just after Delgado-Lopez brought it to D.A.F. under the title "Kebabträume" ("Kebab Dreams"). The blog also mentions several other later versions, including a remake by D.A.F. (inferior to the first version), a spoof by Xao Seffcheque & Die Pest titled "Fortschrittsträume" ("Dreams of Progress") that turns the song into a joke about the contemporaneous German indie/punk music scene, and another spoof by O.R.A.V. (actually Xao Seffcheque and Peter Hein) in a mock-singer-songwriter style. Countless other cover versions abound. (Check out mutanten melodien to hear all of the above versions and more.)

I went into what I took to be the meaning of the song in my Monarchie und Alltag review, but I'd like to expand on that with the assistance of some more intelligent perspectives. I translated some of the lyrics myself, but for a complete version (side by side with the original), see here. In interviews, Delgado-Lopez dodges questions and claims that the song speaks for itself. Since the song may appear racist or anti-immigrant at first glance, that's a dangerous decision. However, he also does not hesitate to speak out on issues of social and economic justice.

In an interview with from 2010, Delgado-Lopez explains that the song was written during a trip to West-Berlin in 1979 to play at a punk festival at SO36 in Kreuzberg, but he says little else about the song itself. Instead, he speaks out about the exploitation of the Third World by western nations and espouses a decidedly pro-refugee stance. When the interviewer asks why Delgado-Lopez usually leaves out two of the lines when he sings the song now, he responds that he prefers to write about larger connections, not just day-to-day politics, without explaining what made the two lines in question any different than the rest.

In an undated interview with Dearly Demented, Delgado-Lopez sidesteps a question about provocation and shows little concern about his songs being misinterpreted. He does mention that fascist skinheads would occasionally turn up at D.A.F. concerts, particularly in England, leading to arguments and the composition of blatantly homoerotic songs like "Der Räuber und der Prinz" ("The Thief and the Prince") to troll them. He again mentions the backstory of when the song was written, and adds that he was never upset or jealous about Fehlfarben's version. While there was no specific agreement or understanding about it, he also says that wasn't necessary, and the copyright situation was handled correctly and fairly. He again speaks about immigration, declares it inevitable, and notes that as one group integrates and assimilates, the reactionary fears shift to the next new group to arrive.

In "Protestsongs von Punk bis HipHop" from fluter, Ulrich Gutmair writes that the song was a skillful satire of pre-existing stereotypes and fears. The humor lies within the confusion and combination of resentment towards Turkish immigrants and paranoia about communism and the Eastern Bloc. Gutmair also claims that the song was one of the first punk songs to be sung in German. That isn't entirely true, but it was still early enough to be a novelty. The article also discusses Advanced Chemistry's 1992 single "Fremd im eigenen Land" ("Foreign in One's Own Country") and compares the two songs.

By far the most detailed exploration of the song was undertaken by Barbara Hornberger for the Songlexikon in 2016. She goes into great detail about the first D.A.F. version of the song, picking apart every detail of the music and lyrics. She notes that the manner in which Delgado-Lopez delivers the song is staccato, militaristic, unusually emphasized, and rather androgynous. The lyrics are fragmentary and describe an atmosphere rather than a specific event. She also points out that Turkish immigrants were rare in East Germany at that time, so the juxtaposition of the DDR, the Soviet Union, and Turkish immigrants "behind barbed wire" creates irrational vision of terror and confusion. It simultaneously also speaks to the ghettoization of Turks in West Germany, both in the sense of their marginalization due to their migrant background as well as the physical situation of the sizable community in Kreuzberg. The titular "kebab dreams" are presumably the dreams of prosperity hoped for by the immigrants.

The crux is in the final line: "Wir sind die Türken von morgen" ("we are the Turks of tomorrow"). On one hand, it pairs with the preceding line, "Deutschland, Deutschland, alles ist vorbei" ("Germany, Germany, it's all over") to form an exaggerated picture of conservative fear of losing national identity. On the other hand, Hornberger posits that the final line can be seen as a commentary of or antithesis to the rest of the text. It may represent a shift in the authorial perspective. Or is it implying that the "we" (West Germans, presumably) will soon be infiltrating and spying into other countries? [Edit 2019.11.07: Or is it that the next target of marginalization and irrational fear will be the punks performing the song?]

I'm hard-pressed to say whether the Fehlfarben version or the original 1980 D.A.F. version is my favorite. Both have a richness and complexity that are lacking in the rough, punky Mittagspause version or the later, more direct and simplified 1982 D.A.F. remake. Fehlfarben managed to push the punkiness to its borders with a groovy bassline, funky guitar, and squawks of saxophone. D.A.F., in their original five-piece formation, emphasized the electronics and made an unsettling soundscape. Both of these versions express an alienation and eeriness that match the lyrics.

Thanks to Jochen for the mutanten melodien link and the Czech for introducing me to the music in the first place.

P.S. And for something completely different, Stereogum has a great article about the unusual #1 single by the Singing Nun from Belgium in 1963. Be sure to check out the awesome/ridiculous synthpop remake from 1982!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Nice background information. Monarchie und Alltag is one of my all time favorite albums but I've always been a bit worried about the meaning of this song. Irony is so hard to be certain about..