Wednesday, October 29, 2014


Traditional music in Ghana incorporates many styles and different types of instruments; it all depends on which region it comes from. Music from the northern regions tends to be linked musically to other music traditions from the Sahel. Generally, they tend to use a combination of stringed instruments (like a type of lute called the kologo and a type of fiddle called a gonjay) and wind instruments including different kinds of flutes, horns, and of course voice. Polyrhythmic percussion lines are either clapped or played on a variety of drums which accompany the instrumental and vocal lines. Griot, or praise-singing, traditions are also strong in the northern regions of Ghana.

The southern regions often use music in social or ceremonial capacities.  Percussion is essentially the heart of African music, and the traditions of the costal regions of Ghana are right in line with this custom. Drum and bell ensembles are one of the key styles that have developed here.

During the early- to mid-20th century, music started to change. Guitar bands and dance highlife bands.  These styles were mainly influenced from Latin American and Caribbean music (such as reggae) as well as jazz, blues, and soul coming from the United States and United Kingdom.

Highlife is a style that originated in Ghana and is still pretty popular, even regionally. It got its start among Ghanaian aristocrats during the colonial period and is based on a lot of traditional Akan rhythms. Highlife is characterized by its use of multiple guitars, jazzy horns, and synthsizers with an upbeat tempo. A type of highlife called Burger-Highlife became popular with Ghanaians who has emigrated to Germany. George Darko was probably the most well-known musician in the Burger-Highlife scene. Other Ghanaian highlife musicians have entered the music scene in countries such as Canada, Switzerland, Netherlands, and the United States.

Hiplife started to become popular in Ghana in the latter part of the 1990s. Inspired by the hip-hop music scene of the United States and United Kingdom, Reggie Rockstone is often credited as being instrumental with spreading and promoting this genre. Producers started to record new artists and the genre became quite the rage throughout Ghana. 

Ghanaian music is closely tied with dance traditions.  Most dances fall into four categories: social dances, religious-based dances, dances that re-enact stories and folklore, and ceremonial dances (which include weddings, funerals, births, etc.).  A few of the main dances include Adzogbo (originally a war dance, now a social dance; women dance with flowing arm movements, but men have show of agility and strength), Kple (performed by priestesses at shrines as a way to communicate with the gods), Bamaya (men dance dressed as women; stemmed from a dance during a 19th century drought where men thought women got quicker responses from the gods), Adowa (sometimes called the “antelope dance” because of the wild jumps like an antelope), and the Agbadza (alternating slow steps and fast steps, it’s also accompanied with rattles, drums, and the gong-gong).

One of the stalwarts of Ghanaian music is the music of E.T. Mensah. He and his band, The Tempos, were often considered the “King of Highlife.” To me, I can definitely hear the reggae influence on the music, with a little jazz mixed in there.  The saxophones and brass instruments accompany the guitars, and sometimes it was the other way around. There are times when it seems that he’s singing in a call-and-response style, with the horns and saxes responding. Normally it seems guitars take the lead; however, in this music the guitars provide more of a rhythmic function to the songs. The percussion seems to use many Latin techniques and instruments, such as maracas and claves.  So in essence, what we have is a kind of multi-ethnic-sounding music that is very easy to listen to and even dance to. I love it!

Wulomei and Osibisa are a couple of other highlife bands, except they have more modernized instrumentation to their music. It also seems they both have incorporated funk and soul into their music. George Darko is another that deserves a listen. I listened to the album Highlife in the Air. It reminded me a little of E.T. Mensah at times, but I think the rhythms steer away from Caribbean and Latin rhythms and utilizes more of a driving beat. Or perhaps its instrumentation is written differently; perhaps the rhythms just switched parts. Sometimes it’s hard to tell without a score to look at.

Obo Addy is an interesting listen. Heavily focused on percussion, harmonic singing and flutes accompany the percussion ensemble, which seems to include several different types of drums of many different pitches and timbres and a balafon or marimba of some sorts. If you’re a percussionist, you should really take a serious listen to this.

And of course, this brings me to Reggie Rockstone, Ghana’s most famous Hiplife star. It seems influenced in styles of Wyclef Jean (who is featured on a song, maybe two). I’m a fan of Wyclef, so I like his style. I listened to the album ReggieStration, and although every song is listed as “explicit,” I really liked it; however, it was $19.99 on iTunes and $13.98 on Amazon, so I might have to wait until after Christmas to see about getting this.  Other Hiplife artists I listened to are Samini, who leans a little more to the R&B side of hip-hop. I actually kind of like his music; it’s kind of a mix of pop-dance-reggae. I listened to the album Next Page, and all I kept thinking was that I really wanted to take a road trip and put this on (this particular album was $9.99 on iTunes).   Sarkodie’s music is a little harder, more on Reggie’s level. It’s still pretty catchy. I like how he tries to vary his song styles, no fear of trying new percussion riffs or adding in horns in a song or a Gothic strings motif. It keeps the listener interested.

Up next: the food

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


Carving is one of the dominant art forms in Ghana.  Ghanaian carving uses materials that are natural to their environment, including wood, bone, ivory, metal, and marble, and now you’ll find modern materials such as plaster of Paris and PVC are used. Traditionally, this kind of carving was a reflection of the community’s views, ideas, and ideals. There was very little opportunity for an artist’s own expression; the idea of group was larger than the individual. This style of art generally fell into two categories: practical household items and figurines.

Household items included many utensils used in cooking and preparing medicines, such as bowls, spatulas, spoons, ladles, combs, chairs, beds, cupboards, stools, mortar & pestles, walking sticks, and linguist staves, as well as games. Tools were also important items that carvers created.  Some of these included knife handles, swords, daggers, canoes, handles for hoes and other tools used in planting and harvesting, boxes, and other items.

Trees that were cut down for carving purposes underwent an extensive purification ceremony to rid them of evil spirits and such.  One of the first things a young carver will create is a set of their own carving tools.  After the set is complete, there will be a special blessing ceremony where a high-proof alcohol is poured on them and prayed over to ensure no injuries to the carver. This is primarily done out of a lack of understanding of tetanus, staff infections, and other diseases.

Dolls and figurines were also an important part of the carver’s repertoire. Many of these dolls were figures and masks that were used in shrines and part of a chief’s revered cult items. Both male and female figures were used, many for fertility reasons. Many were also used to indicate social status and tribe as well. Carvers often worked in secret for the number of taboos that surrounded the art. One taboo is that a pregnant woman cannot see an unfinished piece for fear that the unfinished figurine will imprint it’s image into the unborn child.  I think it’s probably just an elaborate plan to get people to leave them alone enough to work.

Stools are also important. Ghanaians believed these stools embodied the “mythical soul of the ethnic lands.”  Primarily used by the chiefs, they were highly decorated with emblems and figurative designs that mark each tribal history and are used as identifying marks for each ethnic group. In fact, the uprising that was instrumental to Ghana’s independence was called the War of the Golden Stool, stemmed from an incident that the British governor in Ghana demanded that the Ashanti hand over the golden stool, a symbol of divine Ashanti sovereignty. (I still think this is one of the stranger-sounding war names.)

Ghana also has a lot of textile arts, including weaving mats and other household items.  They are quite known for their kente cloth with woven symbolism. Each color has a different meaning, and this is a special cloth. It's only worn at special occasions. 

In modern times, Ghanaian artists study at universities in both Ghana and abroad.  They excel in a variety of mediums, including painting, sculpting, and vocational arts. While each artist is different and has their own style, each is also careful not to shun their own traditional arts.  Most artists incorporate the old styles and what is “Ghanaian” into their paintings and works. Artists who favor painting often portray people in groups and crowds (perhaps going back to this idea of group mentality?), but even the paintings that portray an individual shows them in either traditional dress or capturing a moment in an average day for a Ghanaian. But if there’s anything to say about Ghanaian art is that Ghana is a diverse country: there are 79 languages spoken here, many religions, and mixed races. Because art is often seen as an extension of who we are, it makes it hard to narrow down concrete attributes because its diversity.

Like many areas in Africa, storytelling was the primary form of literature.  Most of these stories were historical accounts or fables that were passed down by word of mouth from generation to generation.  One of the most common fables, the story of Anansi, is thought to have its origins with the Ashanti people of Ghana.  Variations of Anansi’s stories spread throughout West Africa and the Caribbean. These stories started to be written down to give out as children’s readers.

I suppose it’s fitting to talk about spiders at this time of year since Halloween is next week.  In a nutshell, Anansi is a spider who figured out that the world was missing stories, so he ventured out to take the stories from the Sky God, Nyame. Nyame gave him a task: bring to him the python who could eat a goat, the leopard who has teeth as sharp as spears, the hornet who has the most terrible sting, and the bad-tempered fairy who no one can see. Through trickery and cunningness, Anansi got each one to get close enough for him to wrap them in his silks in order for him to take them to Nyame.  Upon received all four of these dastardly figures, Nyame kept his word and released the box of stories to Anansi in order to take back to earth and share with everyone. These were then known as spider stories.

Ama Ata Aidoo
Literature in Ghana is primarily written in English.  Reoccurring themes that Ghanaian authors often use are political corruption, the clash between the traditional way of life and modern Ghana, and the opposition to colonial rule.  Some of the most well known authors are Kofi Awoonor (poet and novelist; often writes about the traditional and modern/Western ideas in Ghana and Africa), Efua Sutherland (female playwright during the colonial era), Ayi Kwei Armah (historical fiction, political commentaries), and Ama Ata Aidoo (playwright, novelist, poet; often discusses the traditional roles of African women). 

Up next: music and dance

Monday, October 20, 2014


It took me a lot of time to figure out how to start this post on Ghana. I had only a vague knowledge on the country – somewhere in Western Africa… remnants of stories about someone knowing someone who visited or lived there… Why is this so vague in my mind? Why don’t I know more about this country than I should? Why am I drawing such a blank? And when I read up on the country, it was like I never knew the country before. It was an epiphany, you might say.

The word Ghana is derived from a title that was given to kings of the Ghana Empire, meaning  “Warrior King.” (Even though this empire was actually located north of what is now Ghana.) The country of Guinea also derived its name from the same source. (I’ll get to Guinea in a couple of months.)

Ghana is located in West Africa, surrounded by Côte d’Ivoire to the west, Burkina Faso to the north, Togo to the east, and the Gulf of Guinea to the south.  Ghana lies only a few degrees north of the equator, and the Prime Meridian runs through the city of Tema, an important port city.  In fact, the country is only about 382 miles from the 0º, 0º center coordinates, which is actually out in the Gulf. Ghana’s landscape varies between grasslands, low hills, waterfalls, rivers, and islands. Their tropical climate is generally divided into two seasons: dry and rainy.

Denkyira sword demonstration
Five kingdoms (Ashanti, Akwamu, Bonoman, Denkyira, and Mankessim) were collectively known as the Akan Kingdom, and they were among the original peoples to inhabit what is now known as Ghana. In the 15th century, the Portuguese were the first Europeans to arrive and renamed the area Portuguese Gold Coast because of the amount of gold that was there. By the end of the 1500s, the Dutch arrived and settled their own aptly-named Dutch Gold Coast. The Swedish and Danish followed and guess what they called their fortresses? Go on, guess. Yep, Swedish Gold Coast and Danish Gold Coast. (See a pattern? Not very original here.) In the 1600s, the Germans, not wanting to be left out, set up the –you guessed it– German Gold Coast (sometimes referred to as the Brandenburger Gold Coast). The British arrived, because why not at this point? They established control over parts of these areas during the late 1800s and named it something completely different. Just kidding: they called it British Gold Coast. The Akan peoples fought against the British for many years, and the British people finally granted the Ghanaians their independence in 1957. Their first president, Kwame Nkrumah, expanded pan-Africanism and incorporated the teachings and lessons of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Marcus Garvey, and W.E.B. du Bois into their policies. There have been some shaky times in Ghana’s political history, but it’s been fairly stable in recent years.

Accra, whose name is derived from the word for “ants,” is Ghana’s largest city and center of government. Located on the Gulf of Guinea, Accra is the 13th largest metropolitan area in Africa.  Accra was once the capital of the British Gold Coast, and after they gained independence, the capital remained where it was. Modern skyscrapers intermingle with classical European architecture; the city enjoys many modern amenities, such as shopping malls, universities, theatres, sports arenas, museums, libraries and is a center of many local and federal government offices, international businesses, and the Ghana Stock Exchange.

Pure gold. I'll take that, please.
Ghana has one of the quickest up-and-coming economies in Africa, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.  They are using their gold reserves along with partnering itself to the Chinese Yuan Renminbi to strengthen their economy.  Since the 1960s Ghana has invested money in hydroelectric power by the use of dams in the Lake Volta region, and they’re also looking into building Africa’s second nuclear power plant. Although not necessarily the largest producer of cocoa, Ghana has made a name for itself as a producer of some of the finest grades of cocoa in the world. They also have a significant economic impact from manufacturing (especially in information and computer technology), mining (Ghana has the 9th largest diamond reserves and the 10th largest gold reserves), real estate, trade, and science and technology. Ghana has contributed a considerable amount of money towards space exploration and research to partner with South Africa’s National Space Agency. (Someone needs to since the US Congress sadly decided NASA isn’t important enough to fund anymore.)

Cocoa beans
The vast majority of Ghanaians are Christian, and of those, the majority is Pentecostal. A smaller, yet significant portion of the population, practice Islam (of those, Sunni is the largest denomination).

Ashanti Twi: top one means "welcome," bottom one means "how are you?"
Because the British controlled the area for so long, English has become the official language of the government, business, and everyday life. However, there are several indigenous languages that are still spoken in the home. Akan languages include Twi (also recognized for literacy), Mfantse, and Nzema; Mole-Dagbani languages that are often used are Dagaare and Dagbanli. Other languages that are commonly spoken in Ghana include Ewe, Dangme, Ga, Gonja, and Kasem (not to be confused with Casey Kasem). 

Frema Agyeman as Martha Jones in Dr. Who -- I LOVE her jacket! 
One of the most famous Ghanaians is Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General of the United Nations (1997-2006). Frema Agyeman, who plays Martha Jones in the new Dr. Who episodes (I LOVE Dr. Who!), is half Ghanaian on her father’s side. Idris Elba, an actor in several big-name movies (American Gangster, Prometheus, Pacific Rim, Thor: The Dark World) is half-Ghanaian on his mother’s side. Peter Mensah is another actor people will recognize from Hidalgo, 300, the Spartacus series, and True Blood. Author W.E.B. du Bois, famous for his pan-Africanism and African-American rights issues in the US, became a Ghanaian citizen after the US refused to renew his passport. 

Ghana is home to the largest man-made lake in the world, Lake Volta.  (However, it is only the largest man-made lake by surface area.  The largest by volume is Lake Kariba, on the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia.)  The lake provides a thriving fishing industry as well as a logging industry in submerged forests and other tropical woods. But this tropical location also yields amazing tropical food.  I’ve got my recipes picked out, and I’m looking forward to eating. 

Up next: art and literature

Sunday, October 12, 2014


Ah, German food in October. A tradition that has happened for centuries upon centuries.  And although I am half-German, I usually don’t go out of my way for it for some reason.  Some years I do, some years I don’t.  But this year is different because I made my own. (Spoiler alert: it was awesome!)

Super good, even though mine turned out like a bagel-pretzel. 
I started out with the bread.  I usually think of rye bread or pumpernickel when I think of German breads, but I remembered a type of bread that I’ve never made and absolutely love: soft pretzels.  These type of pretzels ­–known as laugenbrezel– are particularly popular in Bavaria where it was developed.  I didn’t do the “super authentic” version where it’s dipped in lye before baking. As a general rule, I avoid recipes that list safety goggles and caustic advisories in the materials list.  I started out mixing molasses (in lieu of barley malt syrup), yeast, and warm water together and let that sit for about ten minutes.  Then I added in the butter, flour, and salt, kneading it until I made a smooth dough.  Then I divided the dough into four pieces, rolling out each one into a rope until it was about an inch thick.  Then I curved the rope around and twisted it, laying it flat and pinching it to the sides like you normally see pretzels. When those were all finished, I cut a 6” slash into the bottom edge of each pretzel.  It calls to put this on a pizza stone, but seeing I hadn’t bought one since the last time I needed one (which was when I made tarte flambé as part of my post on French food), I used my work-around.  I nested two cookie sheets together, turned them upside down, and heated them in the oven to 500º.  Then after I brushed the pretzels with a hot water and baking powder (hoping it works the same as baking soda since I didn’t have any?) and salted them with kosher salt, I put them on some parchment paper and transferred it to my cookie sheets.  It took about 20 minutes for them to be brown enough, but the outsides were a little harder than I thought they should be.  Inside, the bread was soft and chewy. In America, we typically eat our soft pretzels with mustard or melted cheese, but in Germany, the tradition is to eat these with melted butter.  We tried it the German way, and it’s really, really good. Of course, I did have a few bites with mustard (even though it’s better with a brown mustard rather than yellow). 

This was almost like a sweet sauerkraut.  Or would that be sweetkraut?
Next, I made German red cabbage.  I did make a similar dish when I cooked for the Czech Republic, but this recipe turned out slightly sweeter. I drug out my large pot and mixed together butter, a diced green apple, shredded red cabbage (which my kids think is a stupid name for it since it’s purple – you can’t argue that logic), sugar, apple cider vinegar, water, salt, pepper, and clove (which I substituted allspice).  I set it on medium-high heat and then turned it down to medium-low, covered it, and let it simmer for about an hour and a half, stirring occasionally.  I really liked this one, but it didn’t go over well with the kids. I still think it’s the color because sometimes, that’s all it takes. I was sure taking a few “no thank you” bites would change their minds, but no. I suppose there’s more for me.

Mmmm. The most perfect comfort food. 
When I was a kid, I hated German potato salad. Probably because my dad would buy it in a can and serve it cold. But as an adult, my mom made it from scratch for a picnic several years ago and served it warm (like it should be), and of course I tried some just to be polite – but it was like an epiphany. A potato-y, bacon-y, vinegar-y epiphany. This stuff was good! And it’s not that hard to make. In one pot, I boiled my peeled diced potatoes.  And in my skillet, I cooked four slices of thick-cut bacon.  Once the bacon was done, I set it off to the side and cooked some diced onions in the bacon grease.  Once the onions were transparent, I added in vinegar (be careful with this!), water, sugar, salt, and pepper and cooked it down. Now back to the first pot: once the potatoes were done, I drained it and put the potatoes in the serving dish, topping them with some dried (or fresh) parsley flakes. I crumbled in some of the bacon with the potatoes.  Then I poured my onions and vinegar mix on top of my potatoes, topping with more crumbled bacon. Really, I could eat this for breakfast. There’s just something about the combination of vinegar and bacon that reminds me of my childhood.  I think this went over well with the whole family.

I'm very happy there will be leftovers. 
And finally, the main dish.  I know Germans are known for their sausages and such, but I went a lightly different way on this.  I chose Sauerbraten Meatballs.  I have to say: I like meat, and I like cookies, but I have never thought of mixing the two together. Until today.  I started with the meatballs: mixing together a pound of ground beef, some crushed gingersnap cookies, chopped onion, water, salt and pepper.  I formed it into meatballs and placed them on a cookie sheet, baking it at 400º for about 20 minutes.  In the meantime, I started the noodles.  Because it’s October, and German food is often extremely prevalent in the grocery stores, I went with one of my favorites: spaetzle noodles, a type of thick egg noodle.  I also got started on the gravy: I mixed chicken broth (because I was at Aldi’s and didn’t see beef broth), apple cider vinegar, sugar, more crushed gingersnap cookies, and some cornstarch, stirring constantly until it thickens to a gravy consistency.  This gravy recipe calls for raisins but I left them out because I have a very short list of foods that I don’t care for and raisins made the cut. After the gravy was done, I put all of the meatballs in with the gravy and stirred everything carefully so that the meatballs were covered.  I really liked it, but because of the gingersnaps and the vinegar in the sauce, you really needed the drier noodles to cut some of the tartness of the meat.  I found that I only needed 2-3 of these since they were so filling. 

Breakfast and a beer. (Just kidding.  The potato salad will be my breakfast.)
And of course I can’t finish this without a mention of my German beer choices. (I could’ve also gone with a Reisling wine, but I haven’t had beer for a while and wanted a change.) I chose two that I haven’t tried before: Franziskaner Weissbier and Spaten Opimator (doppelbock), both from the Munich area.  I started with the Franziskaner, a pretty good wheat beer. It went well with my meal.  I can’t wait to try to other one tomorrow.  I just know that a doppelbock is a strong, malty lager.

I'm happy that this is my part of my heritage. 
I’ve really been on a German and Germany kick lately.  Maybe it was from this blog, or maybe it was because Germany just announced that they will be offering free tuition to all of its universities, even for foreign students.  The way I see it, for the cost of one year’s tuition at any university in Indiana, I can pay for my entire family to fly to Germany, and then my kids can work on their bachelors degrees while I work on my masters and doctorate degrees.  So, I figure if I start learning German now, I should be really good in nine years when my oldest actually gets ready for college.  And with all the money I save, I can have all the pretzels I can eat. 

Up next:  Ghana


Since the days of Antiquity, Germany has long been one of the musical capitals of Europe and the world. Germany also has the largest music market in Europe (and fourth in the world after the US, Japan, and the UK).

Early German folk music during the Medieval periods generally fell into two categories: minnesingers (love songs sung by aristocrats who traveled from court to court as musicians) and meistersingers (replacing the minnesingers, these were craftsmen in their profession who used more rules-based singing and was more formalized music than that of the minnesingers.). 

German classical music set the standard and developed many of the most influential styles in Europe.  One of the more important movements in classical music history was the Baroque period. Bach was one of the biggest names from this period who developed many of the rules the helped to develop what we now know as Western Music. For instance, the idea of the well-tempered scales, comprised of 12 equal-spaced half-steps in one octave. Before this, tuning was not universal. Polyphonic and contrapuntal music was one of the prevalent styles of writing during this period. I have spent many, many, many hours studying Bach’s “Inventions and Sinfonias,” which are excellent examples of this style. The music of Haydn and Handel are also part of the canon of this period of music. Many of the German dances that we know were either danced in the courts, used as social dance, or were folk dances.  One particular dance called the Allemande (which is French for “German”) was a popular dance starting in this period. It’s characterized by a calm 4/4 time followed by a quicker section, usually in a triple meter.

The mid-18th century brought the onset of the Classical period, with composition styles such as string quartets, symphonies, and sonatas.  Mozart is probably the biggest name to come out of this period. Although Mozart himself was born in Austria, his father Leopold Mozart (also a composer, teacher, conductor, and violinist) grew up in Bavaria. 

The Romantic period spanned the mid- to late-19th century, introducing us to musical geniuses such as Beethoven, Brahms, and Schubert. Romantic poetry in the form of lied were often used as the lyrics in this music, especially that of Schubert, Schumann, Wolf, Brahms, and Strauss. I studied this a lot when I was in college, and I’ve grown to love this period.  In fact, when I was a voice principle, I preferred the German songs to the French ones. (Now, I enjoy both.)

Some music historians consider Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) the first German-language opera, or perhaps opera as we know it. Some of the most famous opera composers produced works in the late 19th century and 20th century.  Carl Maria von Weber, Richard Wagner, and Richard Strauss were well known for the operas they produced. Engelbert Hunperdinck also wrote operas, but his were aimed at the youngest music lovers.

The 20th century brought along some of the most innovative musical techniques for centuries. In some ways, it became more science than art, although there was certainly a split between the composers of Austria and those in Germany. 

While the Austrian composers definitely pushed the boundaries of what were the accepted rules of music composition, German composers remained somewhat more conservative with their music. This was especially true during the Nazi years when ultra-modern styles were looked down upon and forbidden in most cases. Composers such as Kurt Weill, Paul Hindemith, and Carl Orff continued to write music for the people, rather than an elite crowd of avant garde music fanatics.

Outside of the classical music scene, Germans were also carrying on their tradition of folk music. One of the most stereotypical folk music styles is the in the form of brass bands, usually performing in beer halls. And –tuba players will love this– this style of music is aptly called “oom-pah.”  Another style that most people are familiar with is yodeling. While it may be utilized all over Germany, it’s typically performed in Bavaria; although today, it’s pretty much only performed for tourists. Each year, Germany holds several music festivals, the largest and most famous being Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival (classical music), but also Rock am Ring (rock festival), Wave-Gotik-Treffen (goth/steampunk fest), M’era Luna (goth/metal fest), Bayreuth Festspielhaus (festival honoring Richard Wagner), and Wacken Open Air (heavy metal fest) among others.

Popular music started out with cabaret music in the 1920s.  Marlene Dietrich was one of the most popular cabaret performers during that time.  During WWII, rebellious youth used underground jazz and swing clubs as a way of expressing themselves and for discussing the events of the day. (I recommend the movie Swing Kids.) 

Some of the bands and musicians I listened to who had ties to Germany were quite familiar – they had hits that were popular in the US back in the day: “What is Love” by Haddaway, “Rhythm is a Dance” by SNAP! (I totally loved this song when it came out!), “The Power” by SNAP!, “Mambo No. 5” by Lou Bega, and “Mr. Vain” by Culture Beat just name a couple.

I also listened to that “99 Luftballoons” song by Nena. It was really popular when it came out. I think we all tried to sing the words; however, since no one really knew any German, we all just made up the words. But I listened to several other songs from the album as well, which are more or less in the same style, and yes, I liked it in a way that only a 90s girl can.

German musicians definitely made their mark in rock music, and they’ve spread out in different subgenres of rock. And there are several bands who sing completely English. Here are some of my thoughts on the bands that I sampled: Alphaville (really 80s, sometimes reminds me Soft Cell; I like it though), Milli Vanilli (very 80s, we all know their story about faking it, but I do like the song “Blame it on the Rain”), Keimzeit (kind of a cross between folk-rock with cabaret, but definitely on the folk side, tends to use the claves in several songs, not afraid to delve into different genres [like Latin] so that’s always a plus), Rammstein (this was one the first really heavy metal bands I ever really heard; it certainly depends on the song. I listened to them do the song “Stripped” that I only previously heard Shiny Toy Guns do. I prefer the latter.), Scorpions (I love Scorpions! Definitely enjoyed listening to anthem classics such as “Rock You Like a Hurricane,” “Winds of Change,” “Still Loving You,” and “No One Like You.”), Die Toten Hosen (one of the few punk bands I came across, reminds me a little of Rancid in places, not too bad, can rock the rock ballad, wish they had more songs on Spotify), Beatsteaks (pretty good rock band with early punk influences), Tokio Hotel (female lead singer, pretty good, indie rock sound leading into hard rock, reminds me of Poe in places, writers were good at writing for her alto/mezzo range, I like this a lot),  Tocotronic (an interesting sound, a very basic indie rock band sometimes emerging as a hard rock band), Die Fantasischen Vier (it’s German rock-rap even though they also mix in some classical and soul styles in there too. I actually really like it, but I’m a fan of rap-rock. But then again, I like when bands mash up genres), Sarah Connor (female pop star, pretty typical pop, I liked some songs), No Angels (female pop group, pretty typical pop sound as well, they’re alright), US5 (if you’ve wondered where the boy bands went, it’s here; a nice mix of rock and electronic music over group harmonies, not bad if you're a teenage girl), In Extremo (metal band, not too bad, there’s actually more singing that some other bands, which automatically ranks it higher), We Butter the Bread with Butter (probably one of the worst-named metal bands I’ve ever run across, even though their music very much lives up to the heavy metal genre, complete with screaming and everything), KMFDM (I knew a lot of people who liked them when I was in high school, it’s pretty trippy at times, a mix of electronica and rock, they remind me a little of Marilyn Manson, it certainly depends on the song with this one), and Lacrimosa (mixes classical music with metal music, I actually kind of like it just for that reason). 

I did find one or two rap artists who perform in the American style, namely Haftbefehl. He uses a lot of bass and strings in the sampling and performs in a gangster rap style more or less.

Germany also is fairly known for their electronic/house/trance music. This is one of my favorite genres. I’m more of a fan of trance, so a few of the artists really interested me. I’m not so much into acid trance or dub step; I don’t need to feel like I’m in a bad trip when I’m listening to music. I can’t only handle it for about four beats or so, then it’s time to transition. Kraftwerk is probably one of the most internationally known musicians, but other ones that I listened to are Paul van Dyk, Tomcraft, Paul Kalkbrenner, Scooter, and Laut Sprecher (who did the famous “Omnibus” song). And I’ll just leave you with that stuck in your head.

Up next: the food

Friday, October 10, 2014


When the early Celtic tribes moved their way into France and Germany they also left behind some of the earliest art forms there as well.  Some of the earliest forms of art found here are primitive human sculptures and golden hats of the Bronze Age, and much of this is in the Celtic tradition.  After Christianity spread into the area following the reign of Charlemagne, the most prominent art form was illuminated manuscripts. Crucifix sculptures were also popular in larger cathedrals, and some were life size. Altarpieces, a type of relief that was painted or carved that stood behind the altar as a backdrop, were another highly elaborate art form from the Medieval period.

The biggest name from the Renaissance period is Albrecht Dürer.  He was well known for his engravings and prints that went into printed books – something relatively new at this time. He also was known as a painter. Sculpture remains an important during this time; however, it branched out into ornamental flourishes in Gothic building design.

As Germany moved its way through Baroque, Rococo, and Neoclassical styles, they also included artistic movements and other styles from across Europe into their work as well.  Caspar David Friedrich is one of the leading artists in Germany during the Romantic period, or at least one of the most well known.  Much of the art at this time was in painting landscapes and portraits. Shortly after this, naturalism and realism took hold of German artists, and paintings started to come alive. (Not literally.) Artists brought back elements of Greek art and Art Nouveau. 

by Caspar David Friedrich

Fundamentalism, expressionism, grotesque, Dadaism, and a number of other art movements prevailed in the 20th century, some more avant garde than others. The Nazi regime generally forbade any modern art style, electing to only approve art done in the classical styles and the subject matter had to be nationalistic. Conceptional art became very popular after WWII; some of the big names include Bernd and Hilla Becher, Hans-Peter Feldmann, and Hans Haacke. Joseph Beuys is also a well-known artist and sculptor, often giving performances and lectures with his work. Today, there are numerous art exhibitions at museums across Germany showcasing the best of their own artists.

by Joseph Beuys
German literature is primarily written in German, and generally includes literature from Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. Obviously, I’m going to focus on the literature coming out of Germany itself in this post.  Early literature for the most part started around the Reformation, although there were some pieces around before that, mostly epic poetry. Romantic poetry, especially that of the courts and royalty, were particularly popular. The heroic poems, stemming from the oral traditions, were also beginning to be written down.

The Baroque period brought forth the establishment of language rules and rules on poetry and style, thanks to the efforts of Martin Opitz.  This literary period also gave us the first German tragedies as well as continuations in religious poetry.

The period of Enlightenment was one of the key literary movements during the 18th Century; writers such as Immanuel Kant, Christian Wolff, and Johann Gottfried Herder were influential writers of this style.  A movement called Sturm und Drang, characterized by periods of strong emotions as a way of breaking out of the strict nationalism, was shown in the works of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (most notable for his work Faust) and Friedrich Schiller, who later became known for their involvement and initiation of the Weimar Classicism movement.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
German Romanticism tended to value honor and wit as well as beauty.  Karl Friedrich Schlegal and his brother August Wilhelm Schlegal as well as Heinrich von Kleist and E.T.A. Hoffmann were prolific writers of this period.  Young Germany, a group of writers associated with the Vormärtz writers included many young writers and poets, Heinrich Heine being one of the most famous.

Heinrich Heine
During the Nazi regime, a lot of writers fled to safer countries, and the ones who stayed were under strict censorship and forced to write Nazi propaganda materials. After the war was over, postwar and postmodern literature tended to dominate the most published genres. German writers also made their mark in science fiction, fantasy, futuristic fiction, thriller, and pop fiction. Hermann Hesse is one of the most well-known authors who was born in Germany and won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1946. I have read and own two of his most famous books: Steppenwolf and Siddhartha

Up next: music and dance