Fayzen's story is one to give artists faith: in genuine toil, with sweat and uncertainty, and in the possibility of making it the hard way. The Hamburg native spent years earning a living as a street musician for the city's shoppers. Today, Fayzen has a record deal with Universal Music and is appearing on stage at the Reeperbahn Festival among stellar international names. Our author Anne Kleinfeld went along with him – and learned a lot about willpower and hope.
“It's so massive, try it on!”. We meet Fayzen immediately after his little warm-up concert at Spielbudenplatz on the Reeperbahn, and the first topic of conversation is his glasses. They're not only big and very orange, but pack real power. “They make sunshine right in your head,” he says with laughing eyes, “look at the sky”.
In perfect September weather and by live radio broadcast, he's just given a sample of what Reeperbahn Festival-goers can expect at the Gruenspan later tonight: a mix of recitatives and songwriter pop, sunny and serious emotions, hope and melancholy, seeking and finding, packaged in densely rhymed German lines with a gentle, melodic sound. Giants Jack Johnson, Bryan Adams, the Pet Shop Boys and others have previously played the storied music club at the far end of Große Freiheit. Later tonight, Fayzen will appear here with a full band. As a Hamburg newcomer who isn't really a newcomer at all.
Fayzen's hungry, so we set out on foot between his two shows to find something edible away from the Festival clamour. Every year since 2006, the biggest Club Festival in Europe has attracted endless bands and music fans to the Hamburg pleasure mile and the concert locations around it. For St. Pauli, that means an annual repeat of four days of creative uproar with cross-genre live music, art exhibitions and international music industry conferences. This year's programme features just short of 500 entries. For Farsad Zoroofchi, aka Fayzen, as he's been known since his school-days in Hamburg Schnelsen, it means a premiere in 2017.
It's the first time the Hamburg lad with Iranian roots has experienced the Festival from the stage. “I was always far away from playing here,” he says, manoeuvres his guitar case through a side street and pushes a few straying locks of black hair into place with his free hand. “But then to get one of the best slots on the Saturday night, that's absolutely incredible. Really great artists have played there in the past”.
Even though he's now signed up with a major label and has just released his second studio album “Gerne allein” (“Happy alone”), there’s a background to Fayzen's modesty. He hasn't always performed in front of paying audiences in sell-out clubs, for years he played the streets of the Hanseatic city every day for uncertain reward.
“Realness” instead of robot pop
It all started with his own lyrics and a rap crew, and soon the aim was to get the first self-produced album into the public eye by some means. “Most of the time I stood in the shopping district around Spitalerstraße,” he tells us now over burgers and beer. “At first I just wanted to sell a few CDs, but it turned into a real job. We made street music three or four times a week, rapped for strangers or put headphones with our music on them”. That went on for four years. “My father didn't think it was particularly cool at first,” Fayzen adds. “He'd have been happier with me as an engineer or a doctor”.
But at some point, Fayzen's CD sales started to earn him enough to support his parents financially. He handed out more than 20,000 demo albums on his own initiative, till the day when he talked to the one man who put him in touch with the label. And there, too, Fayzen impressed with his talent for setting poetry to music without ever slipping into banality. Now he's arrived where he wanted to be all those years – after what feels like an eternity, but nevertheless quite suddenly. He hasn't lost his aspiration of true, hand-made artistry along the way: “I just don't like meaningless plastic music,” he declares. And I'm not scared of revealing aspects of myself that are unsexy. If it's genuine, it has to come out”. Fayzen rolls himself a cigarette. Not long now before his songs, fragile excerpts from his own story, will resound uninhibitedly through the Gruenspan. He's starting to get nervous. “We've filled the Knust and Uebel & Gefährlich in the past, but this is on a different scale”. Today, his Dad is very proud of him.
Fayzen's parents aren't in the audience tonight, but his girlfriend is there: Hamburg artist Lina Maly, who appeared at the Reeperbahn Festival herself in 2016. She'll be on stage in a moment for a song with Fayzen. “He called me out of the blue and asked whether I had the time and would like to sing 'Rosarot' ('Pink') with him,” she tells us backstage at the Gruenspan shortly before the show. While Lina slumps casually on a Chesterfield, Fayzen's tension is at its height. He flits back and forth a few times, runs his fingers through his hair, looks for something, then he's on. He sings, springs, drums and dances out all his energy for something more than an hour, stopping briefly between times to give the quiet words space. He closes with a peace hymn, sung together with the audience. “Even as a child I set my mind on making the world a fairer place with music,” says Fayzen afterwards, dripping with sweat, and packs his glasses, which may not make the world fairer, but at least make it a slightly pleasanter place to be. “Even if I may never find the perfect song”.