If Berlin became were to become a band, I’d have to shortlist King Khan and the Shrines for a candidate that best represents all the greatness and weirdness that is the German capital. Berlin has an international reputation as a make-it-your-own city and is chock full of artists in every field and genre. I’ve been to Berlin many times, having lived only about an hour away while teaching Germany, but regretfully I was never there for a concert, though I did stumble onto a bar quasi-legally set on top of parking structure that had live jazz! My regret is compounded by now knowing I’ve been to the adoptive (as it is for many acts in Berlin) hometown of King Khan and the Shrines and missed their concerts!
If you threw funk, soul, some Chicago blues, punk, a bit of jazz, and a smattering of ska into a blender, you might get something that sounds like King Khan. The band really defies genre pigeonholing with their funky beats, international horn section, and the “Indian James Brown” front man belting out some soul that you might have thought could come from the states. The band’s official site description is otherworldly and perfect and here’s the singer describing himself:
“Imagine, if you will, a screamin’ Bollywood Wilson Pickett hanging out in Andy Warhol’s factory dropping LSD in his eyes and wearing a shiny golden cape that wraps around the world…”
The band was formed in 1999 by Canadian national Arish Ahmad Khan, King Khan himself, and they released their first album in 2000 and have become an international hit ever since. Khan has only been a long-term resident of Berlin since 2006 but I feel that the group, with its Canadian singer, German saxophonist (also described as Germany’s John Coltrane), and French organist, is the epitome of Berlin. King Khan and the Shrines are a foot-tapping good time with some songs feeling like they’d be at home as a number in the original Blues Brothers. I’m surely going to be on the lookout their concerts as I’d never want to miss the opportunity to see one that includes cheerleaders, spacemen, and go-go dancers.
Idle No More is their 2013 album I discovered through my Spotify discover playlist and I was sucked in immediately. After hearing “Born to Die”, I caught myself hoping they’d be an international band so I could write about them, imagine my luck! If you’re looking for something fun and unusual, give the King Khan and the Shrines a shot, at the very least you’ll get a better idea of the eclecticism of Berlin. Prost!
Key Songs: Born to Die, Bite My Tongue, Of Madness I Dream
Artist: King Khan and the Shrines
Album: Idle No More
Country of Origin: Germany/Canada
Genre: Psychedelic Soul
This article was originally written in 2017 and has been posted with minor updates.