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Germany's ECHO Awards Under Intense Scrutiny After Allowing Rap Duo With Anti-Semitic Lyrics to Win, Perform

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Farid Bang and Kollegah perform on stage during the Echo Award show at Messe Berlin on April 12, 2018 in Berlin, Germany.

Organizers have apologized and promised reforms following Kollegah and Farid Bang's win for top hip/hop album. Some former ECHO winners have returned their awards in protest.

The German Music Industry Association BVMI has apologized for allowing a controversial rap duo to both win an award and perform at last week's ECHO Awards, despite at least one of their songs having lyrics with anti-Semitic imagery.

As previously reported, rappers Kollegah and Farid Bang won the ECHO for hip-hop/urban album, for "Jung Brutal Gutaussehend 3," at the April 12 event in Berlin. Though they performed a different track at the show, one of their songs, "O815," which is not on the winning album, contains lyrics like "My body is more defined than those of Auschwitz inmates” and "Do a holocaust again and come over with the Molotov."

Just before the awards, ECHO organizers brushed aside complaints about the group from national Jewish organizations, arguing that the song did not venture too far from the boundaries of "artistic freedom," and that the nomination would stand. They were also up for best album, but lost to Ed Sheeran.

Following the awards, BVMI managing director Dr. Florian Drücke reversed the organization's stance, apologized and promised future reforms, saying "We as a board estimated all wrong and wanted to promote the artistic freedom at the wrong place. We will take care that such things will not happen again in the future." In a letter to ECHO critic Charlotte Knobloch, the former president of the Association of the Jewish Community, he added "We deeply apologize for all of that to you and all other people whose sentiments we have hurt."

As a result of Kollegah and Farid Bang's win, key figures in the German music industry and the upper echelons of government have also spoken out to slam the awards. Several pop stars, including Marius Müller Westernhagen and Klaus Voormann, classical piano player Igor Levit and conductor Enoch zu Gutenberg, among others, have even returned their awards received in past years. 

Germany's minister for culture and media, Monika Grütters, said the committee failed by allowing the duo to be nominated. "Obviously it is necessary to pause and to reflect about their own artistic entitlement and ethic standards," she said. "The freedom of arts is guaranteed in Germany, but it crosses borders where holocaust-victims are being scorned. The term artistic freedom unfortunately is rather stretchy. Here it is not a question of taste, but about the responsibility of the art and the artists for our community."

ECHO founding member and former Sony executive, Thomas M. Stein, said: "Regarding rap, you cannot put everything on the gold scale. I think that Kollegah and Rarid Bank are predestined anti-semites... They have presented the song and now they have to live with it."

Speaking from Berlin, Germany's foreign minister Heiko Maas said, "anti-Semitic provocations do not deserve a prize," and the president of the Association of the Jewish Community, Jochen Schuster, called the duo's ECHO award "a shame," adding, "The Association of the German music industry (BVMI) and the jury completely neglected the historic heritage of Germany. It is a scandal that such lyrics are getting a free ticket under the smokescreen of artistic freedom and the freedom of speech."

German singer-songwriter Peter Maffay: “This year's ECHO Award was a smack for the democratic understanding of this country. In the same time it shows the erosion in our society and the music-community, emerging for some years now and having its climax last Thursday. It is a mixture of cowardice, stupidity and professional incompetence."

Meanwhile, the president of the German cultural council, Christian Höppner, has left the ECHO advisory council, saying "The council had to decide between artistic freedom and the non-admission of the freedom of art. This decision was a mistake."