Thu 8 Jul 2010
If you have seen the movie Everything is Illuminated which brings to screen Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel you already know Eugene Hutz, the leader of Gogol Bordello. He was Alex, the driver in that strange road movie, which brings the young Jewish-American acted by Elijah Wood back to the Ukraine of his grandfathers and to the secrets of the past that he and his guides share.
The style of the group is defines in lack of another term ‘immigrant punk’. East-European and gypsy influences were very clear in their first albums and in the multitude of public performances. The direct style of their music and message places them closer to punk than to the ethnic music represented by Goran Bregovic or the gypsy bands that became known in Europe and in the US in the last decade. Gogol Bordello gathers musicians coming from at least eight different countries of origin on all five continents, the majority of them being of mixed ethnicity themselves. Here are a few of the milestones in the history of the band collected from http://www.gogolbordello.com/us/history:
1. Starting members meet at a Russian wedding in Vermont, 1998.
2. FIRST SHOW — No official first show… from party to party, gallery to gallery, GB is a growing snow-ball orchestra of immigrants jamming in A-minor…
3. Banned from CB/GB, Mercury Lounge, Fez and Bowery Ballroom immediately after first performances for being too over the mothefucking top…
5. Records first album ‘Voi-la Intruder’ with great help from and produced by Jim Sclavunos of Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds and Grinderman (ex-Sonic Youth, the Cramps, and much more). Maximum respect!
9. Changes residence from Art Space PIZDETZ to a newly opened Bulgarian bar, Mehanata… soon to become “The CBGB of Gypsy Punk”! Hutz’s weekly dj party ‘DRINK LOCALLY! FUCK GLOBALLY!’ at MEHANATA goes through the roof. People flying in from Tokyo!!! The purists get upset!
10. Gogol Bordello releases the 2nd Album ‘Multi Kontra Culti vs Irony’ (self-produced) and gets a solid rep as a completely unmarketable band (see #24).
11. In 2001, Hutz and Oren Kaplan develop an electronic sister project JUF (JEWISHE UKRAINISHE FROINDSCHAFT), introducing new genre of transglobal underground with radical juxtaposition of styles: Balkan Brass grooves, dub, flamenco, reaggaton, punk – you get the idea… electronic version of Gypsy boogie-down, custom made for the Bulgarian Bar parties… JUF record finally released in 2004 on Stinky Records.
12. Premiers its program ‘Occurrence on the Border’ at Whitney Museum Biennial 2002, and turns into unstoppable gallery-wrecker touring other galleries of the world.
13. Represents simultaneously NY and Ukraine at Venice Bienalle, Manifesta 5, 2002.
14. Premiers its 2nd program ‘Think Locally, Fuck Globally’ at Tate Modern Gallery in London, 2002 (amongst others).
15. Plays a legendary show in Central Park summer stage with Manu Chao and Radio Bemba Sound System and starts touring Europe and US like fucking crazy. Starts the fires in all the backyards from Moscow to Vancouver with tours such as: FUCK THE SOUNDCHECK 2002 GYPSYFICATION OF AMERICANIZATION 2002 ALCOHOLYMPICS 2003, TZIGANIZATZIA BALKANIZATOROV 2003 EAST INFECTION 2004 TOTAL PIZDETZ 2005 HOW DO WE MARKET SERGEY? TOUR 2006 EAST INVASION 2006 KNOW YOUR GYPSY RIGHTS 2006 ILLUMINATION 2007 FORCES OF VICTORY 2008 to mention just a few, and simultaneously releasing its own tourly newspaper ‘GOGOL LIEBESACHTUNG’.
17. First concert in HUTZ’s native Kiev, received by Ukrainian press as “UKRAINIAN NIGHTMARE ACCOMPLISHES AMERICAN DREAM.” Thank you!
18. Gogol Bordello, along with Fanfare Ciocarlia, Taraf de Haidouks and other most progressive Gypsy bands of Europe, get exploited by Shantel for corrupted yuppie-catored Bukovina project, but cleverly breaks the ties…
21. HUTZ as Alex appears in the LIEV SCHREIBER’S adaptation of ‘EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED’. GB, of course, also appears in the film and is featured on the soundtrack.
24. GB Does series of mind-bending tv appearances on the likes of Conan O’Brien, David Letterman, Jimmy Kimmel, Henry Rollins, Jools Holland shows and embarks on the WARPED TOUR. Starting to see record labels and press use embarrassing title “Gypsy punk” as a term for the GB inspired movement… GB makes a stronger point as an ACTIVIST on ROMANY RIGHTS FRONT, playing benefit concerts for various ROMANY RIGHTS ORGANIZATIONS – ROMANY JAG (Ukraine), VOICE OF ROMA (KOSOVO-USA).
29. GB PERFORMS IN KREMLIN (can you fucking believe that?!), MOSCOW.
31. HÜTZ launches a new electronico-primitivo (romantico-paranormale) project MITITIKA (UKRAINE-ROMANIA!), premieres in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, May 2008.
Trans-Continental Hustle is their last album, released this spring. If I am to define in a few words the music on this CD, they would be fusion of Latino and gypsy music. There is however much more here.
The album starts in a gypsy atmosphere in ‘Pala Tute’.
The second song, ‘My Companjera’ continues in the same musical mood, with a pseudo-revolutionary text, enhanced by the exaggerated Russian accent of the vocals.
‘Sun is On My Side’ – astonishing and beautiful ballad, proof that punk music can be romantic sometimes.
To the song of wheels
All demons die
Rays of joy they multiply
Harmony you will be my bride
But when the sun comes up
I’ll let out last breath
And slumber softly
Into the death
The following song ‘Rebellious Love’ has a clear melodic line and beautiful text speaking about the eternal race between love and destiny:
Love is running back to God
God is running after man
Man all run to the unknown
From unknown love comes again
The immigrant theme present in the first albums of the group comes back here in the striking ‘Immigraniada’ – a poignant cry thrown back by the East-European musicians for the reception they and their kins got from the West:
In corridors full of tear gas
Our destinies jammed every day
Like deleted scenes from Kafka
Flushed down the bureaucratic drain
It’s a book of our true stories
True stories that cannot be denied
We’re coming rougher every time
‘When Universes Collide’ brings us back into ballad mood, while the Latino influence dominates ‘Uma Menina’ which has Brazilian touch with Ukrainian spices.
I was less thrilled by the combination in ‘Raise The Knowledge’. It starts with Spanish or Portuguese vocals modeled as some kind of a electronic music effects, continues as a ballad, and even when it gets to the repeated principal key melodic line it does not seem to have really decided what the song is musically about. Maybe as the words say ‘Revolution is internal / Evolution isn’t over …’.
‘Last One Goes The Hope’ starts in a similar style, but here the spectacular musical line prevails and the beautiful lines remain imprinted in the memory:
‘Cause I’ve seen ship of fools
Sinking in the dunes
As I dragged my coffin on the rope
Last one, last one goes the hope
By that point the material becomes a little bit repetitive. ‘To Rise Above’ is not a bad song, but it already sounds like we heard it before on the same CD. ‘In The Meantime in Pernambuco’ is definitely the song that could have been left out without nobody being to sorry.
But then come the two last songs:
‘Just because I come from the Roma Camp up the hill
They put me in the school for mentally ill’
This is how ‘Break the Spell’ starts and you can imagine that the theme of the song is protest against persecution. Music is among the best ‘Gogol Bordello’ even did and the words become proud and vindictive:
Average intelligence bureau sends Charlie Chaplin in exile
You always do the best what in your familia runs
And so we are the original globetrotters with no guns
We came from Rajistan as non-militant travelers
The time in Byzantium made us even more advanced.
Best is kept for the final. The song that ends the albums and also gives it its name starts as an elegy that defies death and ends as a call to sweep away borders and prejudices:
When death comes
I won’t be there
In fact I will not be found anywhere
Not in Nevada
Not in Sahara
We gonna build new kind of globalizer
Without a pantzer foust or a shmiser
And may the sound of our contaminated beat
Sweep all the nazi purists on their feet
The Web site of the group is http://www.gogolbordello.com/.