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Interview: Klaus Maack (Summerjam) - Part 1

Interview: Klaus Maack (Summerjam) - Part 1

Interview: Klaus Maack (Summerjam) - Part 1

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"Artists and Festival grew up together"

Summerjam is one of the most important Reggae-Festivals in the world. It takes place for the 30th time this year at Fühlinger See in Cologne, where it has resided for the most part of its long history. For its Jubilee edition we interviewed the festival’s founder and father Klaus Maack and talked about the past, present and future.

Klaus Maack

30 years. Have you had time to realise this yet?

Not a bit. I don’t want to shout it from the rooftops either. It creates so many expectations by so many people, it’s impossible to live up to them all. Some just want to hear old stuff, others would prefer Major Lazer. It’s difficult.

Urban music is developing constantly. Dancehall, for example, resulted out of Reggae being influenced by Hip-Hop and Soul. Since about a year, electronic music has become a major influence, and we’re not just talking about Major Lazer here. Just listen to the new Popcaan record: it has nothing to do anymore with traditional Dancehall or Reggae music. I need to constantly find the balance between foundation acts and the new ones.

You’ve been known for breaking genre boundaries for quite some time now. Surely your audience knows what to expect.

Well, you always get the hardliners who’ll say, “anything that isn’t from Jamaica isn’t good”. But the majority – after all we’re talking 30.000 people – is completely open. This development of integrating all kinds of music genres has been happening since ‘98/99. And it has brought forward a lot of new talent. You used to only have Peter Tosh and Bob Marley, then came all the European influences, there’s a huge scene in Paris for example. You have Patrice, Gentleman, Mono & Nikitaman from Germany. The audience went along otherwise we wouldn’t still welcome 30.000 people each year.

You once mentioned that the idea for creating Summerjam came to you on a journey…

More that one journey actually. I was studying graphics design in the 70s in a quite chilled-out fashion, garnishing the experience with many, many trips. This continued after I was done studying. I went to Florida, Jamaica and Goa – the number one destination back then – but also travelled Europe a lot. Urban music had always interested me. The key experience happened in June ’78 in Ibiza, when I saw Bob Marley play live. I’ll never forget that. The concert took place in a bullfighting arena. At some points the lights were turned off and there was this beautiful starry sky above. That’s when Bob Marley started to play. This kind of music was completely new back then. You had Soul and Funk, but this was something entirely different. I was really flashed.

The key experience happened in June '78 in Ibiza, when I saw Bob Marley play live

I then started working in the concert business and got wind of Manu Dibango in the early 80s. He had just released a record called Abele Dance, a co-production between him and Bill Laswell. It was a mixture of Afro-Jazz and the New York style of the time. I have to add that I had once seen Manu Dibango play live in Paris. And all of a sudden he released this record, fusing two genres in a unique way. At this point I already knew a couple of people in the Business an thought to myself that it had to be possible to transport the feeling and atmosphere of this records to Germany – in Summer. There was nothing like it back then. In Germany people had only heard of Bob Marley and Peter Tosh. So I decided to put something together. I knew that such an Event could not take place in an orchard in Podunk Hollow. So I rented out the open-air theatre of Loreley in St. Goarshausen. It was a financial leap of faith. No one knew whether this was going to work. You didn’t have today’s infrastructure, there was only billboard advertising. But it did work. Right from the start.

Can you recall a few moments in the past 30 years that particularly stand out?

Sigh (laughs). That is going to be difficult. The very first Summerjam was a Highlight, because we had Gil Scott-Heron on stage. A pretty remarkable story involved James Brown in ’88. The festival was still taking place at Loreley back then. For the first time we had this kind of music on the menu, truly a breach of style. We also had no experience with artists like Brown, the Rastas had always been pretty relaxed. Anyways, James Brown called for a drying hood, shortly before he could go on stage. His pompadour needed grooming. Try finding a drying hood on a Saturday night in St. Goarshausen. It posed a real problem. Luckily the local hairdresser was a huge James Brown fan. He sped off, dismantled one of his drying hoods and set it up at Loreley, I bullshit you not (laughs). But James Brown had another request ready: he did not want to get on stage on foot. There was an old Daimler 190 standing around Backstage. I think it belonged to the guy responsible for the billboard ads, since it had buckets full of glue in it. The stage at Loreley is at ground level so James Brown could actually drive on stage in that car while his Band was already playing. When he finally got out the car and started to sing, the crowd went nuts.

Another episode included Snoop Dogg after he had transformed to Snoop Lion in 2013. He was in the middle of doing his show. All of a sudden, five Limos drove up behind stage [Summerjam was taking place in Cologne by that time, A/N]. We all wondered at what was going on, as it was all set for a small after-party backstage. Well, as it turned out, Snoop Dogg had accepted a last-minute request to play a show at some Gala in Luxemburg. So he bolted right after his Gig at Summerjam to be in Luxemburg in time for another show at four o’clock in the morning.

Another Highlight took place in 1991. We had booked Bunny Wailer, the man who together with Peter Tosh and Bob Marley founded the Wailers. The man is a legend but also really difficult. We’d already announced him two or three times before but he had cancelled on short notice each time. His chef was also his manager, that really tells you everything. He was thoroughly incapable, didn’t get the visas right etc. Anyways, it was 1991 at the Loreley, and Bunny Wailer cancelled his show again. We had the opportunity to hire Ziggy Marley as a replacement, who was 17 or 18 years old back then. Think about it: Bunny Wailer already was a veteran, but nobody knew anything about Ziggy Marley. Well, I took the risk. And Ziggy Marley played a show that had all of our jaws drop to the floor. Everybody immediately knew that this guy is a Genius. Two of his sisters were his background vocalists, they called themselves Ziggy Marley & The Melody Makes. It was amazing. This was the moment when I realized that it will always go on, that there will always be new Bands coming up.

Do you remember any key moments regarding the German Reggae scene?

1994 or ’95 we had to leave St. Goarshausen because the Loreley had gotten too small, the entire infrastructure did not serve our needs anymore. The open-air theatre is located on a hill. What is more, our festival caused traffic jams in the entire region. So we moved to an old airfield in Wildenrath. Because of its military touch it wasn’t an ideal choice, but we had almost unlimited space. The camping area was huge, but unfortunately it bordered on a housing area. There’s a curfew after the festival program, usually from shortly after midnight, but since the camping area was so spacious, you had sound systems popping up everywhere. Right in the middle of it you had a young Gentleman, Patrice or Powpow making a lot of noise. It caused us a lot of trouble. The authorities went nuts, we had to summon a crisis meeting.

You had sound systems popping up everywhere. Right in the middle of it you had a young Gentleman, Patrice or Powpow making a lot of noise. The authorities went nuts, we had to summon a crisis meeting

So the next day, we rallied up the heads of these sound systems backstage and pointed out that there were some rules, that they couldn’t just carry on making sound all night. That’s when the first acquaintances were established. A year later these very young chaps were part of the festival’s main program. We set up a tent where these sound systems could perform at night. As long as it all happened in a controlled environment the authorities did not care. This marked the birth of many German artist’s careers. These artists and the festival grew up together.

So this also marked the birth of the Dancehall tent?

You might say that. The dancehall area almost constitutes a stand-alone festival today. The once tiny tent grew into a four-master over the years. In 2013 Diplo played there. This year it will host Rodigan’s Ram Jam and Dub movements like Prince Fatty or Mungo’s Hi Fi. You can try out new stuff in there without the risk of ending up with only 50 people in front of one of the main stages.

Summerjam - Dancehall area

For how long did Summerjam reside on that airfield in Wildenrath?

Two years.

What was the main reason for moving again?

Summerjam is visited by so many generations; the surroundings are of special importance. The opportunity of doing it at a proper holiday camp arose. We just had to take it.

Do you personally sign off on every artist?

I book them all, yes.

I love it when artists, especially well-known artists, integrate and also adapt Reggae music

You seem to be a big fan of new movements, especially the electronic ones. Is that correct?

Totally. I love it when artists, especially well-known artists, integrate and also adapt Reggae music. Major Lazer is the perfect example. In 2013 they played a sensational concert. What poses a challenge, though, is implementing the DJ culture on stage. It works well in the sound system arena of course, but it turns out to be difficult on the main stage. I keep on trying anyways. Our goal is to incorporate all sorts of influences and at the same time be considerate of the many different Generations.

In Part 2 of the interview we are be talking about the challenges for festival promoters today, the story behind the engagement of Wyclef Jean and Damian Marley for the 30th edition of Summerjam, as well as the one act that Klaus Maack has yet been able to get a hold on – besides the legend Bunny Wailer that is.

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Read comments (1)

Posted by DerDUDE on 03.09.2017
Hello United Reggae people,

I did an online-Interview with Klaus Maack (Summerjam, Cologne) on my non-profit website.
Can I use the foto you shot with him, with credit notes to the photograf oder your magazine?

Best regards and keep on skankin'

Comments actually desactivated due to too much spams

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