A personal interview with Peter Maffay
BY NADINE PELZER
(Published in The Produktkulturmagazin issue 4 2017)
He is undoubtedly one of the biggest and most prominent personalities on the German music scene. Peter Maffay has thrilled, moved and accompanied an entire nation for many decades. No one else has come close to his success or released as many number one albums. As well as his passion for music, he created the fairy tale character Tabaluga, which conveys fundamental values to children in a playful manner. The singer spoke about his inspiration, social responsibility and his upcoming MTV Unplugged Tour in an interview.
Mr Maffay, you have been making music for many years. How did you first come into contact with it in your younger years?
I had to learn the violin as a child, my mother insisted on it. I enjoyed making music from the start, but the violin wasn’t the right instrument for me in the long run. I was given my first guitar at age 14. That changed everything. All I wanted to do was play guitar all day long. This wasn’t very beneficial to my performance at school.
When did you know that you wanted to make career out of it?
In 1964, I played guitar in a beat rock band. We played songs by Bob Dylan, The Pretty Things, Small Faces, Herman’s Hermits and Donovan. We were well known in Waldkraiburg, where I was living at the time, and within the surrounding 50 kilometres. It became clear to me that that was what I wanted to do: to stand on stage and play guitar. Much to the annoyance of my parents, I broke off my apprenticeship in order to dedicate all my time to music.
What drives you every day? Where do you get your inspiration from?
In my opinion, you should put your time and the opportunities you are given to good use. Luckily, we live in a world that provides us with plenty of options. We’ve never had this much freedom. The generations before us wouldn’t have dared dream of it.
In the 1970s and 1980s your style changed from Schlager to German rock. What were the reasons for this change?
Your whole life is a process. People develop onwards, on a personal and career level. I searched for my own style and found it bit by bit.
You once said in an interview that even a bit quieter would be too quiet for you. Where does this restlessness come from?
Being idle isn’t my thing. I like setting goals for myself and in the evening I like to look back happily at the day because I came a small step closer to a goal.
You created the fairy tale cartoon character Tabaluga together with Rolf Zuckowski and Gregor Rottschalk. What was the idea behind that, how did it come about?
We got the idea from a teacher, who complained that there were hardly any contemporary fairy tales for children which taught them things that would be useful for their lives. As authors, we put everything into Tabaluga’s adventures which seemed important in our lives. Tabaluga’s job is to convey that. The little green dragon represents values such as respect, tolerance, kindness, reliability and friendship.
Why do you think it is so important to teach children the right values from a young age?
The saying goes “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. Our conscience is shaped during childhood, laying the foundation for the rest of our lives.
Alongside your music, you dedicate your time to social projects and were awarded the German Order of Merit, amongst others. What does this work mean to you?
I’ve been very lucky in life. For me, this has resulted in the responsibility to give something back to the community, to apply myself and get involved. Furthermore, the opportunities for doing public relations work and networking in my job are very good. I like to use these opportunities as much as possible.
What do you hope to change through your dedication and your charity?
We want to give children who are disadvantaged, traumatised and neglected a break from everyday life, to allow them to have a small part of an ideal world and to therefore be a glimmer of hope for them. Our holiday camps are meant to show them there is a different, better world that is open to them.
Your MTV Unplugged album is being released this autumn, with the accompanying tour starting early next year. What is it about concentrating on the essential that appeals to you?
An MTV Unplugged concert is the supreme discipline for every artist. It’s about presenting music in its purest form, without electronic accessories or amplifiers. Unplugged means that absolutely everything is live. Every note was created in the exact moment that you hear it, and will be recorded live on a CD or DVD forever. Less technology means more manpower – and womanpower. Which is why eight further top instrumentalists from Germany and overseas will be on stage alongside the band. It’s a very special experience.
What do you think of prior to a new album? What does Peter Maffay look like at work?
Imagine a person deep in concentration who is standing in the studio for hours, tinkering and trying things out. Sometimes alone, sometimes with band colleagues. I’m very self-critical and rarely pleased with my work. I mostly think there’s still room for improvement.
How much of yourself do you disclose to your audience through your music?
A lot. After all, my songs deal with issues that are close to my heart. But not every song is autobiographical.
What else makes you happy apart from music?
Nature, country life, sport, and being together with good friends.
What advice would you give to young people who also want to become musicians?
To develop your own style and be persistent. It requires a lot of hard work, even if it sometimes looks from the outside as if success comes over night. That’s not true at all. There are often years of hard work, a lot of setbacks and disappointments behind it all.
What do you personally dream of for the future?
Next year, I’d like to write and record songs for a new studio album. There are plans to build an event barn in Dietlhofen, a country estate where another Tabaluga house is currently being built. Artists, experts, and people interested in topics that are important to society can meet here. I would also like to get a truck license and spend more time in the countryside.
With 17 number one albums, the singer, composer and music producer Peter Maffay is the most successful artist in the German charts. The Romanian-born musician is also known for projects such as the fairy tale character Tabaluga and “Begegnungen”. Peter Maffay is dedicated to social causes through his charity and was awarded the German Order of Merit in 1996.
Picture credit © Wolfgang Koehler