HAMBURG — After two years of hybrid programming during the pandemic, the Reeperbahn festival is back, with a focus on the U.S. market and an opening event that included a short speech from U.S. Ambassador to Germany Dr. Amy Gutmann and a preview of the German version of Hamilton set to open in Hamburg. This year the event expects 40,000 consumers and 3,000 music executives – less than before the pandemic but far more than last year.
For the first time, Billboard is a Reeperbahn festival media partner and will present a Sept. 23 panel about the U.S. music market as well as a reception co-sponsored by the Music Business Association. The panel, “Everything you need to know about the American music market but were afraid to ask,” will take place at 11am Sept. 23 at the East Hotel Cinema; it will be moderated by this reporter (Billboard deputy editorial director Robert Levine), joined by colleagues R&B/hip-hop reporter Heran Mamo and music publishing reporter Kristin Robinson. The reception will take place at 4:30 pm Sept. 23 at Sommersalon in Klubhaus St. Pauli.
The opening event, which took place Sept. 21 at Hamburg’s Operettenhaus, started with a welcome from Hamburg’s First Mayor, Dr. Peter Tschentscher, who spoke about the festival as “an environment for networking” to “address the challenges currently facing the music and culture business.” Gutmann spoke about the importance of diversity and inclusion, a priority this year at Reeperbahn, which has partnered with Keychange, a global movement to empower in the music business women and people who identify as nonbinary.
“As the focus country of the Reeperbahn Festival in 2022, the United States is bringing the diversity and innovation of its music and creative industries to Hamburg,” Gutmann said. “This transatlantic partnership fuels and expands the cultural and economic cooperation between our nations, artists, and music industries.”
The lineup of artists was impressive, too. Ellie Goulding performed two songs and spoke about the importance of fighting climate change in the music business, and Ukrainian star Alyona Alyona and German R&B singer Zoe Wees, a breakout star from Hamburg, each played a song.
Then Jan Delay, a pioneer of German-language rap performed the Udo Lindenberg song “Reeperbahn,” an ode to Hamburg’s rough-edged nightlife district, for which he was joined by Linenberg himself. (Lindenberg is a veteran German singer-songwriter, known for living for years at a Hamburg hotel, who has the hard-living-style and gravelly voice of Tom Waits; Delay, an affable rapper with mainstream appeal, might be compared to LL Cool J.) Although they have vastly different styles, they are friendly, and their duet has a fun, easy chemistry.
The inevitable highlight, given the event’s focus on the U.S., was a preview of the German-language version of “Hamilton,” which opens in Hamburg in October. (Hamburg has emerged as a European capital of musical theatre.) It is not the kind of musical that lends itself to translation, given the complexity of the language as well as the specifically American nature of the story, but it sounded smart and punchy in German.
Over the next several days, highlights of the Reeperbahn festival will include a showcase of musical talent from the Ukraine as well as the Anchor Award for most promising new talent.