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Surabaya Johnny – The sound of the 1920s Berliner Kabaret

I’d like to offer something different today, and I’m afraid this is again my sister’s fault.

As I mentioned in the Holochaust Mahnmal post, she has written a thesis about the Berliner Kabaret of the 1920s. She focused on Walter Mehring only because she couldn’t pursue her true love, Bertold Brecht. But she is always looking for things related to Brecht, this is how she ended up listening to an Italian singer that was very famous here in the 1960s and 1970s.

Milva has always had a very strong connection with Germany. Part of her career was spent on stage performing precisely Brecht’s work and in the early years of her career she sang many songs of the Berliner kabaret. Most of them talk about the underworld, dispossessed people, low spirits, very often war.

This Surabaya Johnny is one of those songs. It was written by Bertold Brecht for the comedy Happy End coauthored with Kurt Weill and Elisabeth Hauptmann. The comedy opened in Berlin on 2nd September 1929 and ran for seven performances.

And hey, here there’s the interpretation by Lotte Lenya, who was Weill’s wife and one of his actresses.


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