Germany to Discontinue ECHO Awards, the Country's Top Music Prize, After Anti-Semitic Lyric Backlash

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

At a meeting held yesterday (April 24) in Berlin, the executive board of Germany’s Music Industry Association (BVMI) decided to discontinue the ECHO Award, an honor that has served as one of the country’s foremost music prizes for decades.

The decision to end the awards, which have been running since 1992, comes amid an intense backlash after rappers Kollegah and Farid Bang won the ECHO for hip-hop/urban album on April 12, despite the duo having a song with explicitly anti-Semitic lyrics. At the meeting, the executive board decided that the ECHO brand has been damaged to such an extent that it requires a complete overhaul and a fresh new start.

The board began by acknowledging the ECHO’s years-long status as a top prize, as well as a key annual industry event featuring countless memorable moments and performances. In addition, the board noted that Germany -- as the third largest music market in the world -- will continue to need a creditable music award to honor the work of musicians across all genres and generations.

However, the board also made it explicitly clear that this music award cannot be seen or used as a platform for anti-Semitism, misogyny, homophobia or the trivialization of violence, among other things. The board expressed its deepest regrets and apologies for the events surrounding this year’s ECHO Awards and also signaled its commitment to ensuring that such mistakes are not repeated in the future.

This decision will also entail a repositioning of the ECHO KLASSIK and ECHO JAZZ awards. With this in mind, the board announced its first concrete step would be to recast the three prizes based on a new structure. In the course of this remodeling, all of the committees involved in the ECHO to date will cease their activities. The nomination and award criteria will also undergo a complete transformation. As with the ECHO KLASSIK and ECHO JAZZ awards -- which have always been based entirely on decisions emanating from a jury of experts -- the new award for pop music will also place a stronger emphasis on the jury.

The executive board will now take the time it needs to formalize these changes. At a workshop scheduled for June, the board’s objective will be to craft a new prize on behalf of all artists and the entire pop music industry -- and to involve as many ideas and expectations as possible in the process. At the same time, the BVMI has already approached a number of institutions and requested they join in shaping what many see as a necessary social debate about the scope and limits of artistic freedom.

Detailed information on the ECHO JAZZ and ECHO KLASSIK awards will follow shortly, the board noted. The JAZZ Awards are scheduled to be presented on May 31 in Hamburg, and will not involve any form of TV broadcast or production. The focus, the board said, will be entirely on the artists and their music.