In December of 1925 the American cabaret performer Josephine Baker brought her show ‘La Revue Négre’ from Paris to Berlins Theater De Westens.
Throughout the early 1920′s, Jazz was rapidly replacing the more traditional musical forms in Cabaret and Revue but it was not until after the stabilisation of the currency in 1924 that many Berliners had the chance to experience it live.
Josephine Baker became an almost overnight phenomenon from which it was said “the women of Berlin were never the same again.”
The black performers touring Europe at the time were perceived as both reinforcing and subverting racial stereotypes with Baker at the forefront. Typical examples being her intentionally ludicrous ‘Dance of the Savages’ which she performed in just a loin cloth and the blatant cliche of her most famous performance wearing a skirt composed of just bananas.
Another troupe performing in Berlin in the same year as Baker were ‘The Chocolate Kiddies’ performing music by Duke Ellington at the Admiralspalast.
The newspaper reviews of both shows were astonishing, describing the black performers as primitive and primeval whilst, at the same time, utterly modern.
” They are a cross between primeval forests and skyscrapers; likewise their music , Jazz, in its colour and rhythms. Ultramodern and ultraprimitive”
” They have brought us our culture. Humanity has returned to its origins in the steps, the shaking and loosened bodies. Only that can help us, we who have become too erratic. It is the deepest expression of our innermost longing”
Josephine Baker replied in her memoirs:
” In Berlin’s journals and newspapers they wrote that I was the embodiment of the German ‘expressionism’ of today, of German ‘primitivism’ …. what is the meaning of all that?”