“Every Russian or Ukrainian… whenever they really need to kick ass, they basically whip out the gypsy stuff” – Eugene Hütz
We’ve sampled some pretty unlikely and atypical sounding genres here so far on the countup. In the last two weeks alone, we’ve seen psychedelic Cambodian surf rock and symphonic pop music. Today, let’s take another deep dive into the niche genre handbasket and visit with the world’s foremost Gypsy punk band, Gogol Bordello.
If you know the story of Gogol Bordello founder and frontman, Eugene Hütz, it’s obvious how this particular genre mashup came together. As a child, Hütz left his Ukrainian hometown shortly after the Chernobyl disaster. Toward the beginning of his long journey to come, he discovered that his maternal grandmother was descendant from a line of gypsies known as the Servo Roma. Much like the Romani people before him who traveled the world, Hütz spent several years going from one (usually eastern) European nation to the next before making his way to the United States as one of the last political refugees to arrive before the collapse of the Soviet Union.
In his travels, Hütz experienced first-hand the difficulty of crossing borders and the infringements on the freedom of movement that they caused. He had also seen the way that borders could affect the free flow of culture. By the time he got to New York with his guitar and a stack of albums, Hütz channeled his a passion for his culture and his music, building a band from scratch to introduce new audiences to his culture and to pass along the struggles he had experienced dealing with repressive governments. This mission is reflected in the band’s name, which is in part a reference to Nikolai Gogol, a Ukrainian author who helped smuggle Ukrainian culture into Russia.
Hütz’s struggle and his message resonated with people from around the world, and today the eight members of Gogol Bordello include natives of the Ukraine, Russia (two), Israel, China, Ethiopia, Ecuador and the USA. Together, they create a sound that blends influences from so many different cultures into one sound that’s uniquely Gogol Bordello.
More than anything, Gogol Bordello is renowned for its crazy, intense live shows. The band puts on quite a show and never has a problem getting the crowd excited, into the music and dancing like there’s no tomorrow. Here’s a glimpse of their show from the one time I’ve seen them perform. When the lights flash on the crowd, you’ll see a bouncing mass of limbs that is pretty much representative of the pandemonium that is a Gogol Bordello concert. Later on, they’ll go crowd-surfing on a drum (sometimes, two to a drum!), basically because they can.
If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend checking these guys out when they come to your town. In the meantime, get to know their music and you’ll be ready to rock.
Not a Crime – Gogol Bordello