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German rappers win award despite criticism over 'Auschwitz inmates' lyric

In this April 12, 2018 photo German rappers Kollegah & Farid Bang receive the "Hip-Hop/Urban national" award during the 2018 Echo Music Awards ceremony in Berlin.
Axel Schmidt/Pool Photo (AP)
Echo Awards' organizers defended their decision to honor the two artists, citing artistic expression

Two German rappers that sparked controversy for comparing themselves to Auschwitz prisoners in a song released last year, were berated on stage Thursday at an event ceremony in Berlin.

"My body is more defined than that of Auschwitz inmates,” state the rappers Kollegah and Farid Bang in one of their songs.

In the Echo Awards (the German equivalent of the Grammys), the two artists snagged the prize for "Best Album of the Year" in the hip-hop category for their album "Jung, brutal, gut aussehend 3” (“Young, brutal, good looking 3”, in German).

The album had reached gold status even before its release in early December with more than 100,000 sales. The controversial lyric appears in one of the album’s bonus songs, "0815."

Shortly before their win was announced, a punk rock singer receiving his own award used his acceptance speech to criticize the rap duo for their lyrics.

Provocation can be an important tool, but artistic freedom has its limits, stressed the singer Campino of the German punk rock band Die Toten Hosen.

That line is crossed "when it comes to misogynist, homophobic, right-wing extremist and anti-Semitic insults," he said, to the sound of applause and inspiring a standing ovation in the audience. "When is the moral threshold reached?"

The rappers Kollegah and Farid Bang, both Muslims, apologized for the lyrics when taking the stage afterwards and insisted that they have made an effort to distance themselves from "any and all forms of anti-Semitism and hate against minorities.”

GALI TIBBON (AFP)

They also poked fun at Campino by showing a portrait of him with a saint-like halo, drawn by Kollegah during the punk rocker’s speech.

Despite attempts by Echo Awards' organizers to defend their decision to honor the two artists, citing artistic expression, the duo’s nomination ignited uproar in the days leading up to the ceremony on social media and among Jewish organizations.

The lyric is not only crude and undignified, but also makes Holocaust survivors feel like it “scorns them and their murdered relatives”, a representative of the International Auschwitz Committee told the German daily Bild.

President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Josef Schuster, also criticized the line, telling the newspaper that “while we demand that immigrants accept our values, violence and intolerance is being celebrated in these types of songs."

One German artist called it “macabre and shameful” that the rappers are being honored the same day that Israel is marking its Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Also 93-yesr-old Holocaust survivor and musician Esther Bejarano, known in Germany for teaming up with a hip-hop crew to fight intolerance, joined the criticism.

In response, Farid Bang posted a public apology on Facebook, saying that it was not his intention to insult her personally, and offering to record a song with Bejarano and donate the proceeds to charity.

Polina Garaev is i24NEWS Germany correspondent.

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