It is September 2018. Uwe Baltner has left a job as a journalist writing stories for a local newspaper in Stuttgart, southern Germany. He is now one half of Baumann & Baltner an advertising agency. He has 400 Instagram followers and drives a Fiat 500 to work every day. The drive to and from his new workplace is 30-45 minutes long, most of it due to traffic jams. He decides to fill the void with audiobooks and podcasts, but he soon runs out of any he finds interesting, so he goes back to a childhood love, he starts singing.
Uwe has always loved to sing. He says it’s just who he is, doesn’t think it’s anything exceptional. At 15 or 16, he joined his first band. They performed mostly rock songs. Unlike the other kids, Uwe was not afraid to sing. The only instrument he could play was the accordion, which is more suited for traditional, folk and ethnic music. So he sang his heart out. He went through 4 bands, transitioning from classic rock songs to Blues over the years.
Back to September 2018. Uwe Baltner has started a family, his professional singing days are behind him, he says none of the bands ever became successful and he only sings in the shower. He starts again with singing lessons on YouTube. After each lesson, he picks a song and practices. Then he discovers you can post videos on Instagram. The first video goes up on the second day of September 2018, he is dressed in a black shirt with white or yellow dots, it’s hard to tell from the Instagram filter, the signature hairstyle sticking up, is seen for the first time. He is standing in what I assume is his house, the car videos which are part of his aesthetic begin the next day. For now, he is singing Nancy Sinatra’s Bang Bang.
I was five and she was six,
We rode horses made of sticks,
I wore black and she wore white…
Germany is home to some of the most renowned composers, singers, producers and performers the world has seen. It is reported to be the largest music market in Europe and the third-largest in the world. If you know your music history, then you know German composers include some of the most accomplished and popular in history, among them Johann Sebastian Bach, Georg Friedrich Händel, Ludwig van Beethoven, Felix Mendelssohn, Johannes Brahms, Robert Schumann, and Richard Wagner. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (also recognized as Austrian) was among the composers who created the field of German opera. One of the most famous film score composers is Hans Zimmer.
I am scrolling through Twitter when I come across my first Uwe Baltner video. Someone posted it from Instagram. The song is Burna Boy’s ‘Ye’, and he sings it, not lip syncs actually sings along, follows the tempo, his head bopping down, and snapping back up in time to the beat. The lyrics he makes a mess off, mostly, because he doesn’t understand Yoruba. He smoothly avoids the n-word in Burna’s lyrics and people fall in love.
Bigi man wei no dey wearrr a/gba/da,
Waz it gonnn be?
You can tell he still has the voice that carried him through 4 bands as a youngster. Uwe believes it is really easy to make people happy if you are happy yourself and you have a smile on your face. His Instagram bio elaborates – Singing in my Fiat 500, I reach around the world spreading music and fun. #singing #carkaraoke #labrador
His followers grow in trickles, and in July 2019 when he tackled his first Nigerian song – Ye, ye o, ye, ye, ye, ye, ye ye o – it exploded. Today, Uwe Baltner is a celebrity with over 1m followers on Instagram, and celebrity mentions almost every week. I asked him why he loves singing and he said – “I guess I just wanted my voice to be heard and I found my voice in singing. I later became a journalist, which is also the same thing.…………… I guess I am just that type.”
Uwe Baltner does not think he will sing on stage any time soon, he seems content receiving song requests from fans, picking one, practicing till he feels he has a hang of it and then the Instagram camera comes on.