“Mellow Mark” grew up in Bavaria and became known as a reggae star in Hamburg and Berlin. In 2006 he cut off his dreadlocks – the cult hairstyle that recently provoked a scandalous cancellation of a concert by Swiss colleagues in Bern. In an interview with FOCUS Online, Mellow Mark tells whether and how he himself has suffered from the accusation of “cultural appropriation”.

FOCUS Online: A reggae concert was canceled in Bern a few days ago. Some viewers had complained about “cultural appropriation”. They denied the young Swiss dialect quintet “Lauwarm” the right to show insignia of the Rasta culture resistance movement that was born out of oppression. As white people, they would have nothing to do with it except to make money from it. Dreadlocks, clothes, songs. You wore dreadlocks yourself for many years and have been playing reggae for 25 years. Have you ever experienced anything negative related to this?

Mellow Mark: Certainly. However, not from the audience, but from the ranks of the police. I live in Berlin, but grew up in Bayreuth and perform regularly in Bavaria. When I still wore dreadlocks, I was regularly fished out at traffic stops there and frisked for drugs because of my matted hair.

That annoyed me extremely. Not only because of the control and time that went into it, but also because I didn’t take drugs or do anything with me with them. I was never a rastaman smoking weed, never saw myself as one, and yet I was a preferred target for the police.

Many people find the cancellation of the concert due to concerns about political correctness by a minority of less than 40 spectators scandalous. Not least because the critics fled after the demolition, so it was not possible to ask questions about the motives. How did you react to such allegations?

Mellow Mark: When I started reggae, I did it because I was not only totally hooked on the music, but also on the story behind it. A story born out of colonial oppression. The power of reggae inspires me. I wore dreadlocks out of deep conviction.

As a sign of clear solidarity against any oppression of black people in Jamaica and any other form of oppression. When someone comes along and says, ‘Hey, you’re not allowed to do that because you’re white and only want to make money with it’, I replied: ‘Hey, watch out, the music really got me in contrast to the oversized crowd closely involved with the culture and knows what it stands for.’

In this respect, the accusation of cultural abuse through dreadlocks is really totally wrong. Quite apart from the fact that anyone who doesn’t like it can simply leave the concert. That’s how you normally do it.

• Also read:

PUSH – guests complained about “discomfort” – concert canceled due to rastas and reggae, band stunned: “audience screamed”

They have traveled the world extensively and have also traveled to countries such as Africa, USA and the Caribbean where the Rasta culture has been part of the ethnic traditions for several decades. How did you meet Africans or black people in the USA who live this culture as their own history? So the “sole rights” in the sense of the critics of “cultural appropriation”, for whom they probably believe they speak?

Mellow Mark: That’s a good question for these critics to ask themselves first: what do those affected, whom they believe harmed, actually say about the accusation of unethical cultural theft. In the US, African Americans would get excited when they saw me with my rasta hair, pat me on the back and say, ‘Cool man, you’re on our side!’

In Africa, many laughed that I, as a blond German, walked around with such a hairstyle. From their point of view I have deprived myself of the privileges of my origins. As a white person in Africa you were not and are not usually one of the oppressed.

When and why did you, as a convinced reggae musician who has conquered the German charts, decide to cut off your pigtails?

Mellow Mark: That was in 2006 in South Africa. I loved reggae and still love it. But that year, on that very trip, I realized that the dreadlocks were no longer a part of me. I was a dreadlock exotic from the start and probably the only one in the world who never smoked weed. In addition, I have always developed further in my life – culturally, personally, politically and of course musically.

In South Africa I realized that the dreadlocks would henceforth prevent me from developing in the way I wanted to. That’s when I started to get interested in flamenco. So I cut what was my trademark up to that point. Because otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to live the way I wanted. The only ones I alienated were my fans. It was a shock for them. But in the end they got it.

From your point of view, is there really nothing to the accusation of “cultural appropriation”?

Mellow Mark: In principle I always think it’s positive when things are questioned. From my point of view, the crucial question is whether cultural appropriation should be taken out of its context solely for economic reasons and only turned into money. It’s always about whether this is a cultural enrichment or just a particularly clever form of exploitation? A Gucci bag with a peace sign clearly falls into the latter category.

And what do you think of the accusation made in Bern that reggae music may only be played by those affected?

Mellow Mark: I think that’s nonsense. Of course, I keep asking myself to what extent musicians and artists are allowed to use things that do not come from their own culture without the authors participating in it. And of course I have a stake in this form of business, since I use music that does not come from my culture.

But culture and art are exactly that: a crossover of different currents, a mixing of different styles that can lead to completely new styles. All this freedom in art would not exist if one were to act as the critics who blasted a concert in Bern wanted.

What do you think of the fact that the Swiss organizers in Bern gave priority to the contentious concerns of a minority, which led to the spectacular termination of the reggae concert after the break?

Mellow Mark: I wonder what Bob Marley would have said about that! As far as the concert in Bern is concerned, the cancellation was definitely a very hard decision that I would not have made.

The good thing is that the scandalous cancellation has sparked a debate that creates an opportunity to talk carefully about content and arguments and not about gut feelings. In this way, everyone can develop further, both the musicians and the audience and organizers.

The only thing that must not happen is the exclusion of artistic freedom. Because canceling culture ultimately leads to the death of culture. Without this bang in Bern, neither of us would probably have conducted this interview, in which we openly deal with the subject.