With Shambhu Leroux, Berlin Stays Wild at Heart

By Allison Krupp . April 24, 2018

Shambhu Leroux’s soul-punching voice is a howl from the Berlin underworld.

It’s affirmation that—despite Bassy and other club closures, and those shit new-wave-cafés on your street, Berlin’s dirty black heart ain’t stopped beating. Not yet.

The self-described Berlin Queen of the Underworld, Shambhu Leroux evokes life-affirming power, even off stage. She’s seated across from me in her Sonnenallee apartment, pouring tea with a delicate tip of her hand and sliding over a platter of Indian-spiced carrot cake. Niceties, to contrast the girth of her message: listen up—she doesn’t play shows to fuck around. She’s not one to “go through the motions” of music.

All of her shows are different, simmering with vitality. 

Editor Andy and I discovered Shambhu at a Bassy Halloween party, a few years back. Her voice, gravelly, ancient—for what is the blues if not a direct link to the animalistic urgings of your own bitter heart?—brought shadow, dimension to the night. A dark push toward the edge of the proverbial emotional cliff. Making it out alive meant we were more alive than ever before. 

And she’s back for a rare performance. Shambhu Leroux and her crew of misfits—Rico Lee on guitar and bright-eyed Henk Hoelzen on drums, appear at Wild at Heart on April 27, with a show she’s termed “Reverie.” 

“I like to use one key word to describe the show. Where I am at that moment,” she explains. “Lost in a daydream,” then, is how we encounter Shambhu this late April. 

Of her band, however, she demands far more than floating reflection.

“I tell them they have to be rough. They have to be extremely emotional. They often underestimate the journey they’re going to do with me,” she says. “For me, if I sing a song, I have to feel the song. The song becomes a part of me.”

Shambhu, then, is the direct antithesis of the straight-laced, professional musician: those with a plasticity to each performance, a set dialogue to use with the crowd, no matter the night or the venue.

“Addiction,” she calls performance.

Nothing but addiction. She absolutely drowns in what she does: the blistering guitar and even her own voice sweeping up over her. It’s torrential, draining. And in that, Shambhu says, lies the authenticity. It’s why she doesn’t perform all the time, why she can’t be a “cookie cutter band,” playing the same mathematical set every goddamn night. Magic happens in a flash, unplanned, made with a kind of urgency. Why do anything on stage if it can’t be this?

And Wild at Heart is the essential venue for such an event. In fact, Wild at Heart opened its teeth to Shambhu on her first night in Berlin, 18 years ago. “Oh, God. I had a miniskirt. I felt so free. I could never do that in France. I would fucking get lynched. Especially in the rock and roll scene. Here, they saw me walking by and said ‘what the fuck is that?’ But they embraced it! And that is something I will always give to the German and the Berliner.

“I went to that club the first night. I ended up with my skirt on my nose, showing my ass to everyone. Those were the days when I wasn’t prude. From that day, there was total respect. You show your ass, the people eat in your hands. I really have a lot of affection for these people. They are really a special rock and roll club. Very open-minded.”

BERLINLOVESYOU-Shambhu2The comedienne-chanson-accordionist Jasmine Vegas comes from Paris to open for the April 27th performance. She’s a performer Shambhu terms “fabulous,” and “very John Waters.”

“She’s taking a piss out of herself, yet she’s sincere,” Shambhu’s partner, Sheldon, explains of the wiry New Yorker, whose voice strains, becoming glossy, over the buzz of her accordion.

Shambhu Leroux’s April 27th performance is one of the last authentic howls echoing across Berlin–even as rent prices stack higher, as our beloved grit collapses in the wake of that godforsaken Warschauer Mall.

To appreciate what Berlin was, and what it will always be to those of us who love it most, you owe it to yourself to be at this performance.

See you there.

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