Very few people (or groups of people) can boast about being a cultural ambassador. With their latest album – Pura Vida Conspiracy – the players at Gogol Bordello have transformed into global icons of world song. Formed in New York in 1999, their current lineup is a cross-cultural smorgasbord of supreme talent. Frontman and founder Eugene Hutz is a Ukrainian-born 1/4 Roma man-child whose journey to the United States took him through Poland, Hungary, Austria and Italy (the endless fleeing courtesy of the Chernobyl disaster). He finally arrived as a refugee with his father in Vermont in 1992. He now currently lives in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Hutz’ current backing group includes two Russians, an American, an Ethiopian and a Hong Kong Chinese woman. It doesn’t get more diverse than that.
The fun does not stop there however. Mr. Eugene Hutz is quickly fashioning himself to be a renaissance man. Also a DJ, he showcases this side of his creativity with his side project J.U.F. With the entire band, he also appeared in the film “Everything is Illuminated” starring Mr. Frodo Baggins himself – Elijah Wood. Other film appearances include the lead role in “Filth & Wisdom”, which happened to be the directorial debut of some musician named Madonna. Clearly Hutz is a brave man.
Finally, their intelligence seeps through just in their name alone. The first half comes from Nikolai Gogol, one of influential writers of Ukrainian and Russian literature. Bordello means brothel in Italian. Originally “Eugene Hutz and the Bela Bartok“, it was changed after the band decided that no one in America had ever heard of Bartok (such philistines!). Clearly Gogol Bordello was brought together to musically educate the ignorant masses. They have done that and so much more. More citizens of the world should be aware of their awesomeness. Or at least listen to their album.
The album is just as eclectic as those who made it. It leads off with “We Rise Again” (not to be confused with the song of the same name by The Rankin Family), which falls under their more traditional gypsy punk sound. Then there’s a track like Malandrino. This slower song seems to be under the influence of a Spanish ballad that would normally by somebody like Manu Chao. There a folk songs (such as Amen), epic tales (It Is The Way You Name Your Boat) and everything in between. Hutz doesn’t just sing the songs. In fact, I’m not sure what he does can necessarily be classified as singing. It’s not speaking either, nor is it a cross-pollination of singing and speaking. It is something else entirely. It’s what makes Gogol Bordello unique and original (among a multitude of other aspects).
GB are considered the pioneers of modern gypsy punk, and while that they qualify as both (at least Hutz does anyway), they cover inch of the musical spectrum. Pura Vida Conspiracy contains elements of punk, reggae, love ballads, language, tex mex, flamenco and even mariachi. It would seem that Hutz & Co have a growing for Latin music stylings (and who could blame them?) I can’t wait for their next project, in which they name the guttural forces of East Germany and traditional African music. With Hutz in the lead, I would put it not past them.
RIYL: Devotchka, Slavic Soul Party, Beirut, Manu Chao, Crystal Fighters, Vagabond Opera, Sasha Kolpakov