Songs of Social injustice and real life on the street were the stuff of Germany’s ‘Liedermacher’ singer songwriters in the late 1960’s. One of the most influential was Konstantin Wecker. In April Wecker formed his own Recordlabel – ‘Sturm & Klang’ and found four suitably socially conscious musicians to put on it. One of them learned her craft playing on the streets of Bonn, but tonight she has a stage, a band and a microphone. A chance to hear Cynthia Nikschas play without fear of a passing rain shower or the babble of passing shoppers.
Actually I have an extra motive for visiting the Harmonie on this October night. The STREET MUSIC PETITION co-started by Bonn Folk Club requesting abolition of the Streetmusicians fee levied by Bonn Council to be exact. Who better than Cynthia to ask about playing guitar on Bonn’s streets? In 2011 she was a popular entrant in the WDR show ‘Die besten Straßenmusiker aus NRW’. Nickschas honed her raw vocal style not via Jack Daniels but by ‘shouting’ to be heard near Bonn Market, in Brüdergasse and outside Karstadt. Bonn Station? “Not so good” she tells me. She knows her stuff for sure, so when she proclaims that Street music is “The best stage you can have!” you better believe it.
If you’re ‘stuck indoors’ though there are certainly worse places to play than Bonn Harmonie of course and tonight she is here to promote her debut CD ‘Kopfregal’ but she will have to curb her enthusiasm to play for 45 minutes at least as Cologne band We Used To Be Tourists are starting the evenings session.
An English name and a bit of English wit even in the songs, despite writers Benedikt Schmitz and Isabell Meiner being very German. They have a pleasantly listenable Indie-Folk style that rather makes me think of Mr & Mississippi who played here last year. They can be quirkily funny as in ‘I am the Onion’s’ lyric “Peel off my skin. Does it make you cry?” or spot on lyrically as: “Your love is like a sinking ship , and I decided to not go down with it” for example from ‘Summer at Sea’. Definitely worth a listen even if you like your lyrics English and doubt a German band can write them well. They can, and ‘We used to be Tourists’ are the proof.
Cynthia Nickschas leaps onstage, a veritable bundle of energy with feet always on the move. She wastes no time getting to the point with her lyrics. A soft melodic start jumps very quickly as she notes: “Leute hier fehlt’s ganz schön an Liebe” From the first lines of ‘Gold glänzt nicht’’. I’ve seen comparisons of her music to Rap with a Folk-Blues style. Rap she certainly is not – neither is she Folk or Blues. She is very much a creature of her environment, and that environment is as street observer where seemingly she doesn’t seem much to like the world those people on the streets are living in. “Lachen durch leben gehen ist irgendwie weniger schlimm. Die Scheisse mit Humor nehmen, auch wenn sie Stinkt!” from ‘Tanz!’ for the people who are destined to live in offices all week long “A 9 to 5 job ist mir zu Leer” from ‘Wolke 77’ The people must “Lernen zu Lügen, und sich zu verbiegen”. Cynthia does not wrap her social comment up in humour and imagery like the previous band onstage, she doesn’t so much call a spade a spade as call it a shovel for digging graves.
In fact, it’s easy to get caught up in the social comment and miss the excellent music that it’s raining down on top of. “Ich krieg die Krise wenn ich unsere Realität sehe!” she storms in a song (‘Verdummt genug’) that began with an innocent and hypnotic flamenco guitar intro. There is some excellent saxophone too onstage from Marburg’s Christian Zerban that’s a chance bonus missing sadly from the CD itself.
If lyrical subtlety is your thing then Cynthia Nickschas probably isn’t. If you like your music straight from the heart and straight to the point then she is very definitely worth your time. I will certainly pay a bit more attention to the troubadours out there on Bonn’s streets in future after this show.
Not a lot has changed since Konstantin Wecker joined in with Dylan and Baez all those decades ago. Sadly there is still a lot to protest about and taking those protests to the streets with well crafted pop songs as well as banners is no bad thing. Not sure the lady would like that word ‘Pop’ though. ‘Liedermacher?’ sounds dated. ‘Street-Punk’? Give the disc a listen and decide for yourself. A visit to future shows, on streets or stages, is also highly recommended.
Well thanks again John for such an amazingly good report and magnificent photos to match . I would have presumed so had I not even been there, but having been there, I very definitely know so.
Cynthia is really unique and has not thrived because of Bonn’s policy of on street music, but despite of it. Possibly, already as a teenager, because this bye law has already existed for many years, whenever she had a spontaneous desire to sing music on the streets of Bad Godesberg, where she lives, she would have to pay € 2,80 (today’s price) to travel to Bonn and buy a two day permit for € 10, not knowing what the weather would be like tomorrow, and buy another € 2,80 ticket to travel back from the centre of Bonn. So as a teenager she would by now be € 15,60 “out of pocket” and would have to conjure up the enthusiasm to sing one of her own, as yet unknown songs, to an unknown audience. Quite a daunting prospect for a teenager. In your penultimate paragraph you mention how you will view street troubadours in a different light, I came to Germany late enough to recognise the name Konstantin Wecker but not early enough to realise his importance in Germany, for, in want of a better word, establishing German “Folk” music. Bob Zimmerman is Bob Dylan and Joan Baez is Joan Baez, but Cynthia is simply Cynthia, and may she long continue to have so many good and avid musical friends as she continues to pass on an even older Geman tradition and an internationally praised humanitarian truth:
“One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and, if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words.”
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship
Let Bonn be a resplendent example of cultural spontaneity and please revoke its most heinous current bye law which effectively bans musicians from different nations and continents from interacting with one another, without having planned it several days in advance.