Germany’s Music Industry Association has pulled the plug on its most prestigious awards, the Echo Music Awards, long likened to the Grammys. The decision comes after the Echo Awards received considerable criticism for presenting a rap duo with the best Hip Hop/Urban Prize for an album containing anti-Semitic lyrics.

Kollegah and Farid Bang. Photo © DAP

The prize, which is based on sales figures, went to Kollegah and Farid Bang’s Jung, Brutal, Gutaussehend 3 (Young, Brutal, Good-Looking 3). In their song 0815, one of the lyrics claims that their bodies are “more defined than those of Auschwitz inmates”, while another track contains the lyric “make another Holocaust, show up with a Molotov”. The Awards have also been criticised for its poor timing, with the ceremony – at which the pair performed 0815 – coinciding with Holocaust Remembrance Day.

“The Echo brand is so badly damaged that a complete new beginning is necessary,” the Music Industry Association said on Wednesday afternoon.

A number of prominent artists have returned their own Echo awards to protest Kollegah and Farid Bang’s win. Conductor Christian Thielemann and his orchestra the Staatskapelle Dresden returned their awards, saying in a public statement that “A prize that puts sales above everything, and in a live performance on Holocaust Remembrance Day makes a mockery of the victims of the Third Reich, is a symbol of a form of cynicism which we do not stand for.”

Daniel Barenboim also returned his award, stating that while freedom of expression is an important value of any democracy, that freedom comes with responsibility. “This conviction has long been at the heart of my thinking as a human being and of my work as an artist: anti-Semitism, misogyny, homophobia, and the open contempt of allegedly weaker and more discriminating minorities are an abuse of freedom that we as a society can never tolerate, and we must stand united against such voices and not encourage them by giving them prizes and legitimising them.”

Other conductors to have returned their awards include Fabio Luisi and Mariss Jansons. The violinist Renaud Capucon and pianist Igor Levit have followed suit, as has the Leipzig Gewandhaus, which returned its three Echo awards.

The German Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas, also made his condemnation known, stating “anti-Semitic provocations don’t deserve awards, they’re simply disgusting… We have to protect Jewish lives – every day and everywhere.”

The Music Industry Association’s decision will also involve a restructuring of the Echo Klassik and Echo Jazz awards, with details forthcoming.