Nina Hagen, the godmother of punk is back with a new album, Unity
Throughout her entire career, Germany’s Nina Hagen has championed radical, autonomous action, and has opposed established ideas of femininity. The beautiful and strident hell-raiser has straddled the lines between punk and pop, East and West, and earth and outer space.
With her new album, Unity, her first since Volksbeat in 2011, she continues to do that by playing with a multifaceted mélange of textures, samples and everyday sounds. Amidst this rich foliage of sounds and themes there is, of course, that voice. In the wink of an eye it transitions from operatic to demonic, hitting insane high notes then plummeting to awe-inspiring deep bellows, as if she is trying to interfuse the sexes. Nina Hagen screams and hisses, belts out lyrics and performs recitatives, rasps and reverberates in electronic distortions. She launches into musical dialogues and soliloquys. It is as if her voice is echoing into our time from another world.
The single. United Women of the World, is a magnificently catchy, danceable reggae punk anthem of feminine solidarity. The song is an appeal to the women of the world: join together, be loud, celebrate yourselves and your femininity, fight for your dignity, go on strike for once and stay in bed, or take or the streets.
She enlisted some heavy-hitting support for it, including Jamaican-British singer Liz Mitchell and new wave icon Lene Lovich. All three have been on the scene since the 1970s when feminism was a disparaging word. Mitchell came to fame with the disco group Boney M, while Lovich and Hagen have been friends for many years, ever since the two of them acted in the forgotten punk film Cha Cha together. They also collaborated on the song Don’t Kill the Animals to protest against animal testing. They are no strangers to making statements with their music.
Also included on the album is the track, 16 Tons, her version of the 1947 country-folk classic by country singer Merle Travis, about Kentucky miners whose lives consisted of working themselves to the bone and overcoming constant hardships. The country twang is recorded with plenty of erratic reverb, unwaveringly forward-moving groove, and bone-dry electric guitars.This song has been waiting for Nina Hagen, an artist who has always celebrated the political power of music. There have been many Ninas over the past five decades of her career, so many iterations and incarnations, so many images, moments, voices and songs, and the same is true in the video.
The album Unity is a piercing, warm-hearted and varied Nina Hagen spectacle. She is as prolific at 67 as she has ever been. She has never wasted time playing it safe or easing people into things. The album takes off at full speed. “Shadrack” is shimmering half-sung, half-rapped power pop rock with a driving beat. It tells a Bible story that ends with the line: “That was a goodnight story for the soul about God’s kindness.”
The title track, Unity, is a collaboration with funk visionary George Clinton. It’s a wonderfully lightly flowing and cosmically glistening dub number that pays homage to the Black Lives Matter movement. The two of them wrote the song as an immediate response to the death of George Floyd. The synthesizer melodies swing like gentle waves to stuttering hi-hats, while Nina and George sing against hate.
The song Atomwaffensperrvertrag is explicitly political. In it Hagen remixes two sampled excerpts from speeches, one she gave in 2009 at the United Nation Freedom Festival at Brandenburg Gate, and a UN speech from US politician Dennis Kucinich, creating a pulsing tour-de-force with country guitars, jumbled voices, and frantic percussions.
One thing has not changed since the beginning of her career. Nina Hagen is radical. She tries new things. She speaks her mind. She knows no limits, whether artistic or ideological. Entertainment and very earnestly meant messages still go hand in hand for her. Yes, there are indeed many, yet there is only one Nina Hagen.
About the Author
Bryen Dunn is a freelance journalist with a focus on travel, lifestyle, entertainment and hospitality. He has an extensive portfolio of celebrity interviews with musicians, actors and other public personalities. He enjoys discovering delicious eats, tasting spirited treats, and being mesmerized by musical beats.