The Journey to Afrika began in Leipzig
At the time of writing this article, the Swiss singer Dagobert will play his last shows of his extensive tour through Germany, Switzerland and Austria. Within the course of a month he presented his second album, entitled Afrika, in more than twenty places. The opening show took place in Leipzig’s Ilses Erika, where Switzerland’s Best Dressed Man of 2013 entertained a small, but dedicated crowd. High time for an introduction to this unusual artist.
I have a confession to make and it feels much easier to do so now, in the aftermath of the WGT with its broad acceptance of the most fantastic quirks. My latest musical obsession is a Schlager singer. Please don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe in dismissing entire genres of music, but since my late teens I was raised on a strict diet of guitar-based Indie rock with the occasional pop classic strewn in. Ever since I had a clear-cut idea of what is cool and Schlager clearly wasn’t. In the case of Dagobert, however, there’s no way of denying it. There are catchy tunes, there are the sha-la-la choruses and German lyrics which were on my lips in a matter of a heartbeat.
How could that happen? I cannot trace back why I ever clicked on my first music video by him, it was “Ich Bin Zu Jung” from his eponymous debut album, but I was hooked in an instant. Its black and white mute film aesthetics gave it a timeless air. I saw an attractive, tall guy in a tailcoat gazing unblinkingly into the camera, singing his song undisturbed by the woman silently crying at his side. Both were simply walking down the street, the woman clinging on to him and talking to him, but to no avail. Three times the woman at his side changed, one gesticulating more than the others, yet all of them were clearly in distress. On top of the upbeat melody, Dagobert’s lyrics tell us the story of a futile relationship. Now who cannot relate to this topic? What is remarkable though, is Dagobert’s sincerity.
Upon leaving school, he won an art scholarship. He went to Berlin and squandered all the scholarship money. On returning broke to his home country, he took the chance of living in a mountain cabin in the Canton of Graubünden. He had planned to stay for a year, this year turned into five. He admits that the long completely isolated winters made him pretty dejected. Not only did he experiment with the existential questions of how to sustain himself in the cheapest and most practical way (he chose to have a pot of rice each day), but also with what sort of songwriting he wanted to perform as an artist. His greatest musical influences were Die Flippers, the model band of German Schlager of the nineties and the hard rocking Scorpions who had their heyday in the eighties. Combine this with his somewhat immature liking for the Donald Duck pocket books which were popular with children in the nineties (hence his name, taken from Donald’s tight-fisted yet elegant uncle) and an admiration for Bela Lugosi, and you can already figure out what you will get in a show.
On the evening of April 27th, I was looking forward to a bit of glamour, a bit of kitsch and a bit of singing along and couldn’t wait for the Austrian support band SIND to clear the stage for the main act. To me, they looked and sounded a bit like a Hipster version of Casper, judging from the half-shouted, husky vocals of the singer. At least their idea of a drunken serenade under a balcony is Oasis‘ “Wonderwall,” which amused me a little.
The crowd gave their polite applause. To my surprise and slight horror Dagobert entered the tiny stage in a non-descript piece of clothing. It was a dark-grey overall and I hoped he would take it off soon. He launched into a song and into another, introduced himself, his musicians and his new album. And of course he eventually slipped out of this hideous overall. Underneath he wore his trademark black pants topped with a cummerbund and a garishly coloured shirt. And he didn’t stop there. Crammed on the small stage there was a dressing screen, behind which he changed into a white shirt and a black blazer, and later into a curious kneelength coat without sleeves. Throughout the concert he kept the crowd entertained with sparse announcements. Especially during the performance of the eerily sounding “Hast Du Auch Soviel Spaß,” Dagobert instructed the audience to sing along to the backing vocals.At one point he teased us with the question of what would come next. It was neither “Ich Bin Zu Jung” nor “Zehn Jahre” as some concert goers suggested, but the stomping “Ich Mag Deine Freunde Nicht.”
A very outspoken message, one that could be bought in the shape of tote bags and shirts at the merch stands in the hallway of the “Ilse.” And exactly there he stood in a Kreator t-shirt to be approached for an autograph and a selfie after the show. Of course I used the chance to have a small chat based on a very memorable holiday I once enjoyed in Graubünden, just one valley apart from where Dagobert isolated himself. He seemed a little disappointed that I had stayed there a fortnight only. And then he gave me the hint that Die Flippers wrote a song with my name. One day later I looked it up on the Internet and realised once again: Schlager really is unbearable. Dagobert, however, is in a class of his own.