Established in 1995 in Berlin, the band 17 Hippies – they aren’t hippies, though they tour very often and far, nor are there currently seventeen of them, rather it’s now a twelve-piece group – began as a weekly meeting of musicians who would as far as possible play other instruments than the ones each was most accustomed to. Even then they wanted to mix things up, and during the years since they’ve done so with verve: in the music they make, zydeco and klezmer, Cajun and Balkan music (to name some of the sounds that move the band) flow together as though they were all destined eventually to encounter one another in just such arrangements. (That the central meeting point should be in Berlin lends an especial poignancy to the very spirited cross-fertilization that results.)
The musician and songwriter Lüül (Lutz Ulbrich, the man who wrote that haunting song “Reich der Träume” for Nico back in 1980) was a member from the beginning; the diverse biographies of the others can be consulted on the band’s website, of course, but here mention may be made of Kiki Sauer, likewise a member from the start, whose voice can be as sweet or as sad as she wants or needs it to be, whether in German or in English or very often in French (she credits her university studies in French philosophy with lending her the equanimity requisite for participation in this collective undertaking): her delivery of the line “Ich bin gekommen um adieu zu sagen,” leaves one feeling very quiet indeed.
On its Youtube channel the band has posted this charming informative video about itself.
In addition to those featured in the playlist, on the band’s Myspace page there’s another very interesting number, “Biese Bouwe,” which gives one some idea of a people’s music and song that might possibly have emerged if – by virtue of an alternative history in which Germany, somehow having united and become a colonial power two centuries earlier than the Wilhelmine era, had found “its place in the sun” not in the South Pacific but in the Caribbean – the German language, alongside French and English, had contributed in a major way to the formation of the Creole vernaculars of the West Indies.