Punk bands destroy things onstage — guitars, TV sets, cars. Gogol Bordello is more interested in smashing borders.
Eugene Hutz, the band’s driving force and the father of the “gypsy punk” genre, has been writing and performing punk songs inspired by Eastern European folk tunes since 1999. Gogol Bordello’s latest album, “Pura Vida Conspiracy,” continues the band’s tradition of border smashing — musical borders, as well as cultural and national ones.
Art and Revolution
Having grown up in Ukraine, Hutz has many friends and relatives reporting back from Kiev on the ongoing anti-government protests.
“Artists are important in times like this,” the 41-year-old says. “People trust artists a lot.” Because of that, Hutz says, it’s important to differentiate “real artists from attention-seekers” capitalizing on the turmoil. “Sometimes people listen to stupid s—,” he says.
So, how can we tell the real artists from the fakes? Real artists — “like Bob Marley, writing fantastic songs” — infiltrate the soul through their art, not spectacle, Hutz says. “Just being crazy is one of the cheapest ways to get attention.”
“Punk and folk are very close together,” Hutz says. “Punk is literally urban folk.”
Both genres are stripped-down, their messages are straightforward, and they’re used as a means of “throwing away the hardships of the day in a liberating and fantastic way,” Hutz says. He argues that punk and folk are one and the same, anthropologically: “They express people’s political outbursts in the most direct way.”
Hutz’s definition of folk encompasses flamenco, country and bluegrass — any music that lends itself to audience participation, which he finds much more effective than genres that rely on one-way discourse. And what about Roma (also known as Gypsy) music specifically? “Roma is folk,” Hutz says.
Nothing’s Truly Original
Their songs sometimes sound so familiar (“Malandrino,” from “Pura,” is like something right from the Old County), you’d think the band is covering traditional tunes.
“There’s no accounting for what melody comes from where,” Hutz says. “When you talk to composers and musicians, they have no idea where their melodies come from. It’s always a mystical experience for people, like getting information from a different dimension. But really, it’s more like rechanneling something that already exists,” he says. “Beethoven, Brahms and Liszt all used melodies played by shepherds. A talented composer just discovers these melodies and takes them to the next level.”
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