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Interview with Eugene Hutz, Gogol Bordello

Gogol Bordello’s frontman, Eugene Hutz, was born in Kiev to a Romany family which fled their home following the Chernobyl disaster when he was a teenager. He spent years travelling through Eastern European refugee camps before arriving in Vermont, in the north-east American region of New England, as a political refugee. He eventually established himself in New York as a musician and artist, and became the resident DJ at the Bulgarian Bar, Mehanata, which, thanks to Eugene’s ‘kidnapping’ of touring Romany and Gypsy bands and artists to perform there after their official seated concert hall shows, helped turn it into the ‘CBGBs of Gypsy Punk. Gogol Bordello formed after its original members met at a Russian wedding in Vermont, and soon snow-balled into a fully-fledged immigrant orchestra. Debut shows at famous New York venues, including the Mercury Lounge and the Bowery Ballroom, saw them banned for performances that were ‘too over the top’.

It was around the release of the band’s second album, Gypsy Punks – Underdog World Strike, in 2005, and ‘starting fires in all the backyards from Moscow to Vancouver with tours’, that the mainstream press really started to embrace Gogol Bordello and their hyperactive, charismatic, chaotic frontman. It was around this time also that Madonna started turning up to Gogol Bordello’s gigs.

While working on Gogol Bordello’s third album, Super Taranta, that Hutz woke one morning to find a message from Madonna on his answering machine: ‘I’m calling from London. Let’s get in touch, I’ve got some projects in mind’.

The projects were the main role in Madonna’s directorial debut, the short film, Filth and Wisdom, and that Live Earth performance. Hutz says he took on the projects not because of Madonna’s fame or furtune — ‘I don’t come from a family or social type that worships any kind of celebrity culture. So to me, it was irrelevant if she’s famous or not famous’ — but for her artistic determination and respect for his band: ‘The essence of is it the person’s creative power, whether they really have a love for what they do. That’s what I look for and it’s easy for me to connect with people who are determined and willing. It was unchartered territory, but there was a lot of independent spirit. It didn’t reek with a huge campaign and promotional thing. Stuff clicked and it felt right. I knew that I would have quite a liberty with Filth and Wisdom. And I did’.

Much of the music on the soundtrack is written and performed by Gogol Bordello.

‘Madonna was very supportive of our band. She’d known about us for some years. It was very flattering and inspiring. She really was great with our band’.

Next will come the release of Gogol Bordello’s fourth, as yet untitled, album.

‘The material is all basically written. I wrote it in Brazil, where I’ve been living for about a year. It was always a romantic place for me and it’s also a music heaven. But that doesn’t mean the new album is going to be samba. It’s a lot more textured. It doesn’t stink of a flavour that’s cheap. It’s more a spirit. And for that you have to spend time there and get to know it’.