Interview: Shantel – The Crossbred Sound of Contemporary Germany (October 2017)

There was no better time or at least no more momentous occasion to have a chat with Shantel than the aftermath of the recent German election. The current German, but also European and even global state of affairs is indeed a subject that inevitably concerns the Frankfurt-born musician, DJ, producer and creator of the Bucovina Club phenomenon.

50% of his blood is Romanian, while his sound is 100% crossbred. Eastern European, Gypsy, klezmer, Turkish, but also a little North African and even Latin: you can find all this and more in Shantel’s music.

I’ve a problem if some people used to say that I’m kind of representative of the geographical area of the Balkans. I think that’s completely wrong because I never was into making traditional music or music that represents a particular geographical region. The power of my music comes from the fact that it’s a mix of many, many influences. That’s also how Europe is! I don’t believe in identities, I believe in similarities: everything is about similarities. We created a Frankenstein monster to which so many people and cultures can connect. Even when I go to Mexico or South America, they really love my music because they can relate to it”.

As a matter of fact, that’s also a reflection of the present-day German music scene: a mix of similarities.

I don’t think Germany ever had its own sound. For example, Germany doesn’t have a tradition in rock’n’roll or pop. What Germany has is a strong point in electronic music. Early techno or even early electronic music was deeply influenced by Germany. Frankfurt was also one of the main cities where the trance and techno movement started. It was a movement connected to clubbing and underground culture, linked to energetic subcultures. If, on one side, it has always been hard to make a living with music here, on the other side, everything I wanted to create and play I could do it really easily. The Bucovina Club was an invention that German culture never had before, but it was an invention that Germany easily welcomed.

We are an immigrant country and I’m so proud of this fact even if today we just had an election and we are all shocked by its outcome. The results were expected and everybody feared that something similar would have happened because we have this situation going on all over Europe right now. Anyway, even if expected, it’s still something shocking to experience.

What I stand for is to show the possibility of a cross-political open society with respect and freedom of speech and this getting along with sound and music: I wish that all this would become the soundtrack to everyone’s life”.

Music and politics have always been deeply connected and at times they even mix with each other, so much that you can’t easily point out where one ends and the other begins. However, Shantel has a different and resolute vision regarding the subject.

Music with politics is always a difficult marriage. I really don’t believe in this because you have to make a decision and choose if you want to be a musician or politician. When I look at my activities and the international tours that I’m organising for German artists, I can say that I’m very glad to have the opportunity to bring so many different cultures together even if it’s only for a show, a party or a live gig going on only for two or three hours. That’s because, in that limited time, people forget their living conditions and difficulties like borders between cultures… I mean, I’m so famous in Turkey for example and I already felt a deep change in Turkey many years ago. Nowadays, it’s become an anti-democratic, religion-oriented country, but there are many, many people who are not like that! People who don’t like what’s happening and we have to take care of them.

The same situation is happening in Hungary or in Russia where I still tour. I just left Ukraine after some shows and I could see that there’s an uprising young generation and they’re so promising: they’ve such a good awareness and critical background. I truly believe in this youth culture movement. All those right-wing and nationalist movements that we’re facing right now are something more linked to the old and conservative generation: they’re all afraid of issues like refugees and immigrants. While the younger generation I see at my shows, they’ve grown up travelling with inter-rail, then they experienced the globalisation brought to them by the Internet in a positive way”.

Talking about the younger generation, we asked Shantel who are the new artists or music scenes he’s passionate about and loves to listen to…

I’ve recently been for three months in South America, I spent almost all the time in Buenos Aires and I’ve been impressed by the local sound-clash between electronic music and local sound. There’re a lot of activities going on, for example, it’s great what Fértil Discos are doing. Also in Germany, we have a lot of interesting new projects and they’re not working with labels or industry players. For this reason, you can discover new things almost on a daily basis.  

There’s a very democratic attitude in music production today, which is surprising. At the same time, the other side of the coin that affects everyone is the fact that people can’t make money anymore from it. That’s really sad because being a musician nowadays doesn’t work, especially if you’re not releasing the usual blockbusters or summer songs. That’s why I think that the future of music definitely lies in Africa and South America. There’re great things coming from those Continents. For example, all the great stuff coming out from West Africa with all the electronic influences”.

Going back to Shantel’s music, his latest album is dated 2015. It was recorded and released in other eventful circumstances considering the recent European history. Since then, the name of the German musician literally travelled all over the world and does not have the slightest intention of stopping anytime soon…

I released Viva Diaspora, my latest album, two years ago. I almost entirely recorded it in Athens and I found the city really inspiring. It happened in the days of the economic crisis and I was meeting with a lot of musicians at the time. We had a fantastic time because there was a lot of creativity and cultural activities going on and I think that Athens was a really thrilling space. After I released the album, I toured it all around the world until recently. 

While, what I’m doing right now is getting ready to release a new album called The Bucovina Club Years. I will release it by the middle of November and it contains most of the collaborations that I’ve done over the years with a lot of different artists. I decided to include my first mixes and tracks. Some of them are already 30 years old. Then, there are also some new songs that I produced in the last two years. I think we have 40 songs on the table already, which is amazing! Actually, I was shocked to see that amount of songs: this is what I really love about the period when you’re not thinking about releasing the classic CD. Now we have the chance to go online and upload 40 songs on our channel. This is amazing because, it goes without saying, you can’t put 40 songs on a CD. Then, there’ll be a vinyl edition as well and I’m really looking forward to this production”.

When it comes to collaborations, Shantel’s list can almost go on forever and a day. So, we inevitably tried to understand if there was one that touched or inspired him more than the others.

Actually, I’m very proud of a collaboration that I haven’t done and the fact that I’ve turned down a collaboration with Madonna. A few years ago, the guys were asking me if I’d like to collaborate with her, but I said ‘no, thank you, I’m not interested in working with Madonna’. Collaborations are something very fashionable nowadays. I always work with different musicians, it’s more about chemistry and empathy. It’s about: do we have something to share? Collaborations are not like a marketing thing: I never do that”.

On the last day of November, Shantel will bring his Bucovina Orkestar to London. It’ll be a one-of-a-kind show: an extraordinary occasion to see them on a London stage.

It is rare for me and the band to appear in London because of visa problems and it’s getting harder nowadays with all this Brexit bullshit and border control. So, it’s a rare, rare event for us to play there. That’d already be one reason for people to come and see us.  

Then, we will do our kind of crossover mix from all the tracks and songs that I released over the years with new arrangements. Shantel & Bucovina Club Orkestar is a kind of wild spectacle. I’ll not say that it’s a classic concert: it’s not something that you sit back and listen to it. People will be an integral part of this crazy, anarchic and romantic chaos!


Join the “crazy, anarchic and romantic chaos” of Shantel & Bucovina Club Orkestar on the 30th of November, when he will visit Rich Mix London for a “rare, rare” UK show.

Photo ©: Stefan Hantel