SHANTEL

I met Shantel for the first time at the turn of the millenium. Though a foreigner to “my  Balkan culture”, his remix of Mahalageasca (a song by Mahala Rai Banda) had spun on my turntable more than 200 times within two drunken days and nights, washing my soul from its sorrows.

I must say I did not always welcome what some may perceive as an appropriation of “Balkan culture”, and it has crossed my mind that one of the reasons he became iconic of Balkan music in the West is precisely because he is not from the Balkan, because he is a German with a German name, and sometimes it seemed unfair, even fake. In the meantime I realized I was wrong. Undoubtedly.

Nevertheless, we stayed in touch ever since and I kept inviting him to my BalkanBeats DJ nights  every year. And I always enjoyed these encounters. His tracks were conspicuous landmarks of my DJ sets and the backbone of many Balkan events. Not only because people wanted them, but also because they were perfectly designed to make the crowd go crazy.

Since I also got involved into musical production, I value even more his talent for knowing how to make these tracks more accessible to Western ears, while preserving what makes it irresistibly Eastern. And heaven knows, this is not an easy task.

After Corona and passed our 50th birthdays, shortly before another beautiful DJ Session at the Lido in Berlin, we sat like two dance-floor veterans, talking about the old times, the lost and found and the future.

Today, I am grateful for what he has done, that I know him and that we could speak about the Balkans, music, the everlasting Schism and other human mysteries. And his German Jewish perspective makes me understand even better where we, first generation BalkanBeats, stand in today’s Europe.

 

©  Robert Šoko, april 2022 | Berlin Germany

“This music is basically a bastard…but…the bastards are actually always the ones with the greatest chance of survival”

SHANTEL INTERVIEW

Stefan Hantel aka Shantel, born 1968 in Frankfurt, one of the first musicians to have injected eastern sounds into the European pop culture.
Father of Bucovina Club & Disko Partizani and me had an intriguing but very interesting conversation about sounds, nuclear physics and Berliner Currywurst ohne Darm. Enjoy!

* Interview by Robert Šoko, April 2022, Berlin

Robert Šoko: What could be the next musical “discovery”?

Shantel: The determining question is, to what extent do marginalized sounds or cultures, especially in the Northwest European urban zones, have a chance to gain in significance.
Everything was already there. But what differed was the fact that the sound-aesthetics changed in a revolutionary way. Yet, how could I know.
I have the feeling that Turkish Psychedelic could be the next big thing.

Robert Šoko: Another “world music phenomenon” you reckon?

Shantel: The World Music cachet  always bothered me – this was the sticking point  – I loved this music, but I always had the feeling that the World Music scene –  although it undoubtedly made and still makes an important contribution  –  didn’t really have a pop culture attitude.

Pop culture  means, on the one hand, something fast-moving, short-lived, but also, something that can  achieve mainstream success.

Robert Šoko: Where do you see your role in European musical landscape?

Shantel: Brass was totally taboo in Germany. And then, due to our success, all of these Alpine musicians, from the German-Austrian folk music scene – they  got  totally turned onto these “Balkan Crossover” things and started to mix it with their  Alpine tradition.
It triggered an insane boom, because suddenly this instrumental cosmos  was completely liberated from this conservative and partly also nationalistic mustiness that folk music had. This happened all over the German speaking world.

Robert Šoko: Happy with what you‘ve acheived so far?

Shantel: I would say so, just based on the fact that almost every major European city now organises parties or concerts on the subject of “Music from the Global South”, on the subject of Southeast Europe, on the subject of the Balkans, but also Turkey.

We basically did nothing but invent a continental European sound, a bastard so to speak,  that suddenly became on par with the classic Anglo-American rock ‘n’ roll stereotype.

Robert Šoko: Recently you had a little fight with the techno scene. Techno vs. Ethno?

Shantel: In my eyes it has to do with empowerment, because the sound we make has a bit to do with our own identity, even if it’s a bit iffy. 
Continental Europe was always a melting pot, a heterogeneous structure made up of different religions, cultures, nationalities…but…we couldn’t hear it.

There was no haptic image of it.

And I think that’s exactly what happened, also had  to do with the fall of the Berlin Wall, because suddenly this stereotype of the dangerous and menacing East was shaken.

That’s why I consider this musical revolution – you can’t call it anything else – as a real “empowerment” compared to the traditional Anglo-American model. I would say that the music we stand for is typical diaspora music and could never have been created in Belgrade or in Thessaloniki or in Bucharest.

It is migrant music from marginalized contexts that thrives from both sides, from East and West. And that’s what makes it so special.

This music is basically, as I said,  a bastard…but the bastards are actually always the ones with the greatest chance of survival, if you know what I mean.

Robert Šoko: You are a German Jewish musician with some greek roots as well. And you are very often performing in Turkey. Any frictions?

 Shantel: No, not at all. That’s the great thing about it for me too! We are the artists who make the classic european soundtrack.

Robert Šoko: why is it so hard for many western ears to cope with oriental music?

 Shantel: So, from a music-historical point of view, we were also dealing with an interesting phenomenon whereby in the course of our musical creation, eastern melodies, harmony and rhythm became much more firmly anchored in pop culture. There is an interesting phenomenon here insofar as the Eastern or the Oriental is  always a big challenge for Western ears.

Basically, it has to do with ethics or philosophy of life, because everything from the East that comes from the Byzantine culture, i.e. also from ancient Greece, was ironed out by the West at some point, for example by people like Johann Sebastian Bach.

The chromatic scale, based on 12 tones, has been sorted out and cleaned of all quarter tones that sound weird to us or to Western ears. And this is where two worldviews meet because the music, which is more Eastern, Byzantine or Oriental, which is very important to us because it is an expression of emotionality, is actually the symbol of the Dionysian cult.

And the Dionysian cult was a cult that was very anarchic. In Greek anarchos means without God, without hierarchy. That means the Dionysos cult stands against any kind of dominant  society. It is, so to speak, the counter-model to the Protestant clerical world order that we know in north-west Europe.
And this culture clash, this  schism, the ideological one, between the eastern and the western world persist.

And the Eastern world has, so to speak, always embraced the rebellious, the irrepressible, energetic, while the Western has been an absolute anti-model. The western world always wanted to be hierarchical, always had this puritanical clerical approach, i.e. order, authority, also partly dictatorial. Religion as an institution has actually erased any notion of “freedom” because it had no place in the worldview of clerical culture.

And that is the old schism….

photo & text © by Robert Šoko


Robert Šoko: We have now seen almost everything: Balkans, Eastern Europe, Oriental, Jewish etc…Everything has somehow been recycled and has already been integrated into the cultural landscape of Europe. What do you think could be new?

What’s your gut feeling now?
Shantel: A lot of things have happened, but the determining question is, to what extent do marginalised sounds or cultures, especially in the Northwest European urban zones, have a chance to gain in significance?
I have the feeling that, looking back, towards  the end of the 90s, when Southeastern Europe, so to speak, took on a new and different musical meaning, it was almost like a fad. The one thing was the direction that has long been referred to as Balkan Beats – which was actually always a bit of “fake news”.
Of course, on the one hand,  it had something to do with the fact that there was a migration of people, triggered by the wars in Yugoslavia, as well as by communities that, in Berlin for example, but also in other European big cities, suddenly gave impetus to a kind of nostalgia or renaissance. The result was that the music from one’s childhood, which was actually uncool, suddenly became cool.
I experienced this, for example, with regards to my own family, some of whom  had their roots in Romania. It was always the case that this old sound, such as Taraf de Haïdouks or Maria Tanase, had something “folkloristic” and “uncool” about it. And it was only via the diaspora that it suddenly got  a new context.


Robert Šoko: There was, of course, the so-called Diaspora  before the Yugoslavian wars –  the “Gastarbeiter generation” who, in turn, had their own taste in music. We younger Yugoslavs called their music “turbo-folk”. However, this genre  hardly had any relevance in European musical culture. 
ShantelEverything was already there. But what differed was the fact that the sound-aesthetics changed in a revolutionary way. Suddenly. I call this the “Buena Vista Social Club Phenomenon”. That means the music as such wasn’t really different.
When I  discovered Balkan brass on cassette, I guess I knew it vaguely from my childhood. An album by Fejat Sejdić Orkestar fell into my hands. It totally blew my mind. Later I asked round if the recordings were still in existence, because the production was unbearable, super trashy. There was a certain appeal to that trashiness, but still, one question I asked myself was, could you bring this raw sound to a level that it really deserves, with good production, good microphones, etc?
There were bands that definitely had pop star qualities, but the production just wasn’t there. I had the tapes sent to me and basically redid the production and did a remix. This suddenly gave it a different quality.
The World Music cachet  always bothered me – this was the sticking point  – I loved this music, but I always had the feeling that the World Music scene –  although it undoubtedly made and still makes an important contribution  –  didn’t really have a pop culture attitude. Pop culture  means, on the one hand, something fast-moving, short-lived, but also, something that can  achieve mainstream success.
 

Robert Šoko: You’ve proven that best with your productions. This is where my next question comes from: Has Stefan Hantel done this world a favour by encouraging other musicians to dare to take the “new path”? Have you paved the way for many others towards  Southeast Europe and beyond?

Shantel:  There are the Beatles and there are the Rolling Stones, and punk rock. But I wanted something else – basically what turned out to be the highly successful was Bucovina Club, similar  to what you did with BalkanBeats Sound System. Then of course, later, a big step was made with Disko Partizani, where English lyrics were worked into it. By the way, it should be said that experimenting with  English lyrics was generally frowned upon. Brass was in addition totally taboo in Germany. And then, due to our success, all of these Alpine musicians, from the German-Austrian folk music scene – they  got  totally turned onto these “Balkan Crossover” things and started to mix it with their  Alpine tradition. It triggered an insane boom, because suddenly this instrumental cosmos  was completely liberated from this conservative and partly also nationalistic mustiness that folk music had. This happened all over the German speaking world.
On the one hand brass, accordion, more traditional instruments, yes also violin –  instruments that have a different power than an electric guitar or Synthesizer –  suddenly they became legit and completely lost their stuffiness and their “world music stamp” . They became cool.
And then again, many bands in Southeast Europe, in Romania or in Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece – because the sound had been totally uncool – started to deal more with these sounds. I’m really talking about brass instruments now, and, I remember there was at some point a project like Zach Condon’s Beirut (Zach lives in Berlin, by the way, you should also interview him) which  transported this brass sound to the alternative scene.

To put it briefly, this experiment with Disko Partizani, BalkanBeats, Bucovina Club was a door opener for migrant music in general, and also the door opener for a completely different attitude and way of life.
And then in combination with electronic music, because what we are talking about has its origins in electronic music, because the biggest democratic leveller is the dance-floor.
There were no marketing campaigns, no labels. The legitimation   took place through the parties. And that was the best multiplier, the parties were awesome. They were extraordinary and  they were unique and flattened everything!
Suddenly techno no longer had any meaning, these boring mainstream chart parties. It was no longer important because of the sound we put out there, everyone could agree on it –  the migrant kids from former Yugoslavia, but also the second generation from Turkey, Greece, even Italy…
 
Robert Šoko: Are you satisfied with what has been achieved so far? Has Europe become more tolerant? Could you have done more, at the political level for instance?
 ShantelI would say so, just based on the fact that almost every major European city now organizes parties or concerts on the subject of “Music from the Global South“, on the subject of Southeast Europe, on the subject of the Balkans, but also Turkey.
Turkish Psychedelic is certainly also a pretty important strand that has been gaining more and more importance in recent years as well. And I would venture to say that we paved the way for this phenomenon as well.
We basically did nothing but invent a continental European sound, a bastard so to speak,  that suddenly became on par with the classic Anglo-American rock ‘n’ roll stereotype. 

Robert Šoko: You recently had a little “fight” with the Frankfurt techno scene, in an interview you said “techno is no longer relevant” and some didn’t really like that.Do you think the so-called  techno scene is too much in love with itself and therefore simply not able to give a  little space to the “Global South” sensibilities?

Shantel: In my eyes it has to do with empowerment, because the sound we make has a bit to do with our own identity, even if it’s a bit iffy. I always wanted to say that Europe, continental Europe was always a melting pot, a heterogeneous structure made up of different religions, cultures, nationalities…but…we couldn’t hear it. There was no haptic image of it. And I think that’s exactly what happened, also had  to do with the fall of the Berlin Wall, because suddenly this stereotype of the dangerous and menacing East was shaken.
That’s why I consider this musical revolution – you can’t call it anything else – as a real “empowerment” compared to the traditional Anglo-American model. I would say that the music we stand for is typical diaspora music and could never have been created in Belgrade or in Thessaloniki or in Bucharest. 
It is migrant music from marginalized contexts that thrives from both sides, from East and West. And that’s what makes it so special.
This music is basically, as I said,  a bastard…but the bastards are actually always the ones with the greatest chance of survival, if you know what I mean.
Robert Šoko: What could you have done better?
 Shantel: I couldn’t have done better. It’s nonsense to think like that. Maybe I shouldn’t have had so much uncertainty in the beginning. I basically took an enormous risk back then. I had a relatively good career as a trip-hop and downtempo producer before that and many of my partners left me in the lurch  after that. Everyone said that we couldn’t achieve success with what we wanted to do, we wouldn’t get booked. Period. But I needed something new; I had the feeling that something wasn’t right here.
Robert Šoko: And do you feel it now?

 Shantel: My attitude towards life is very dialectic and is also very influenced by emotions,  and I feel very good about what I do and what I try to explore.
When Disko Partizani became so successful, I got bored again. I then wanted to go a step further, yes, but that depends on how you understand artistic work in general. You should take risk

SHANTEL @ LIDO BERLIN, 2022

Robert Šoko:  You are very often in Turkey? Still, you also are the embodiment of a Jewish musician. And you have a lot to do with Greece, etc. Are there any misunderstandings or even problems with regard to your eclectic persona?
 Shantel: No, not at all. That’s the great thing about it for me too! We are the Artists who make the Classic European Soundtrack…
Robert Šoko:  Another question that has occupied me personally for years: why is almost all Oriental music not understandable for the majority of western Europeans? It doesn’t really go down well and is often described as lamenting, crying, even unnerving  music. Does this have to do with prejudice or what?
 Shantel: So, from a music-historical point of view, we were also dealing with an interesting phenomenon whereby in the course of our musical creation, Eastern melodies, harmony and rhythm became much more firmly anchored in pop culture. There is an interesting phenomenon here insofar as the Eastern or the Oriental is  always a big challenge for Western ears.
Basically, it has to do with ethics or philosophy of life, because everything from the East that comes from the Byzantine culture, i.e. also from ancient Greece, was ironed out by the West at some point, for example by people like Johann Sebastian Bach. The chromatic scale, based on 12 tones, has been sorted out and cleaned of all quarter tones that sound weird to us or to Western ears. And this is where two worldviews meet because the music, which is more Eastern, Byzantine or Oriental, which is very important to us because it is an expression of emotionality, is actually the symbol of the Dionysian cult. 
And the Dionysian cult was a cult that was very anarchic. In Greek anarchos means without God, without hierarchy. That means the Dionysos cult stands against any kind of dominant  society. It is, so to speak, the counter-model to the Protestant clerical world order that we know in north-west Europe. And this culture clash, this  schism, the ideological one, between the eastern and the western world persists. And the Eastern world has, so to speak, always embraced the rebellious, the irrepressible, energetic, while the Western has been an absolute anti-model. The western world always wanted to be hierarchical, always had this puritanical clerical approach, i.e. order, authority, also partly dictatorial. Religion as an institution has actually erased any notion of “freedom” because it had no place in the worldview of clerical culture.
Actually, our sound is a very subversive sound because of the Eastern influence, and that doesn’t just represent the countries of Southeast Europe, but goes further, to Asia, Orient Middle East…it’s a microcosm, so to speak.
And that is the old schism….

part of the process.

© robert šoko. berlin 2022

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