Trans-global art syndicate
Multinational Gogol Bordello blows into Chico with energetic gypsy-punk stage show
On Gogol Bordello’s website, frontman Eugene Hutz proffers advice on how to survive extreme touring conditions in the “criminal environment that’s the rock-n-roll band.”
Ukraine native Hutz is well-qualified for such a task; for more than a decade, he’s led the gypsy-punk progenitors on heroic adventures across six continents, establishing their reputation as one of the world’s premiere live acts from Sao Paulo to Siberia. And Gogol Bordello is no small ensemble, but an eight-member consortium of hard-living, hard-partying and hard-playing vagabonds hailing from a half-dozen countries.
Hutz’s advice ranges from the practical (wear as little clothing as possible onstage to avoid accumulating “garbage bags full of sweat-wet rags” and carrying your own bottle of olive oil to drench any and all food in) to a more esoteric gem—it’s crucial, he writes, to establish a ritual for everyone to do together before going onstage.
“It’s an old theater trick I picked up,” Hutz elaborated in a recent phone interview, though he’s unwilling to reveal the specifics of Gogol’s own routine. “The importance of it is pretty obvious for anything you do artistically as a group. Gogol Bordello is about socialism in action—there is a lot of people, and a lot of energy. Professionally, we learn before going onstage it is for the best result to mobilize the gang spirit, the community spirit.”
“Socialism in action” is as apt a description of the band as Trans-Continental Hustle, the title for their latest work. The album is their sixth full-length release and first produced by Rick Rubin and released on his American Recordings.
Though steeped in the band’s signature gypsy leanings—an extension of Hutz’s own Russo-Ukranian-Romani heritage—it draws heavily from other musical traditions, undoubtedly a result of the band’s continual globetrotting and aforementioned cosmopolitan composition (other members are from Russia, Israel, China, Ethiopia, Ecuador, Trinidad and the United States). For example, a Latin-tinged love song is addressed to “My Companjera,” and a dub bassline kicks off “Immigraniada (We Comin’ Rougher),” an ode to immigrants of all stripes.
In the past, Hutz has criticized America’s resistance to international artistic influence; today, he sees things differently: “I find it less and less true, especially over the last decade. It was definitely true in the past, but I think that the U.S., just like everybody else, is part of a world that is changing rapidly.
“A lot of youth here is very much outward looking. Sometimes through Gogol Bordello, sometimes through other artists, they are discovering things around the world. I think the new generation is tuned in to a worldwide community.”
Hutz said a similar myopia pervaded the U.S.’s Cold War counterpart, Russia: “Russia was the last country to embrace Gogol Bordello,” he said. “We went to play Russia after we’d played Brazil, Japan and Australia, and the irony of that was always very much there for us.
“The main reason for that, I think, is that our music was never Russian to start with. It has a much broader Eastern European archetypical element, which is a confusing thing for Russians. They kind of forget there is Hungary, Romania … and the Ukraine. But the biggest gold mine of Eastern European culture is in those areas. Russia is just one of these countries that is still trying to realize what their identity is.”
As for Hutz, he’s recently found a new home in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Brazilian influence also weighs in heavily on the new album, and is the foundation of his next side project.
“I’m recording my Brazilian album,” he said. “After the tour is over I’m heading out there again, that’s my new hangout. That’s a very exciting thing because every track on that album will be with a different artist from a completely different genre. We’ll be going from baile funk to dub to samba to bossa nova and Brazilian metal.”