The (R)evolution of a Gypsy Philosopher / Gogol Bordello
Read the Cover story on The GROUND Magazine
“Gogol Bordello’s task is to provoke audience out of post-modern aesthetic swamp onto a neo-optimistic communal movement towards new sources of authentic energy.
With acts of music, theatre, chaos and sorcery Gogol Bordello confronts the jaded and irony-diseased. Our treatment of traditional material is freewillous, but is not irony driven and thus real. Our theatre is chaotic and spontaneous and because of that is alarming and response provoking.
From where we stand it is clear that world’s cultures contain material for endless art-possibilities and new mind-stretching combinations, raw joy and survival energy. We chose to work with Gypsy, Cabaret and Punk traditions. It’s what we know and feel. And many more are possible that can make the beloved statement of post-modernism “everything is been done” sound as an intellectual error.
The troubadours of neo-authentics are coming as a trans-global Art syndicate family that has never been witnessed before. PARTY!”
– Hütz and GB
Reading Gogol Bordello‘s Artist’s Statement you can’t help but feel the intellectual energy behind their work. I’m using the word “intellectual” because this energy is not a power deriving from mere knowledge, but rather a mental stimulation that has been nurtured by years of traveling and has always been revealed with no filters through a musical odyssey that one could define as a gypsy-punk cabaret.
“I wrote that in ten minutes as I was asked to do it by The Whitney Museum Biennial. Do you seriously think I sat down to write a manifesto?” tells me the eclectic Gogol Bordello’s leader Eugene Hütz with his calm and distinctive voice. I get to talk to him during a break in the band’s sound check in Paris as they’re on the road, again, to promote “Pura Vida Conspiracy” an album about human potential and a universal flow of energy called “conspiracy” that ironically only wants to help human kind achieving the impossible.
“Sometimes the stress of needing something done in 10 minutes brings out universal truths” he adds, and coming from someone who has been a universal traveller all of his life and experimented with music, acting, and DJing without ever settling down, I know I can take his words seriously and that some universal truths will eventually come out in our conversation.
“Pura Vida” means “Pure Life” and fuses Goran Bregovic’s contagious folklore, Yann Tiersen’s sensibility, and Emir Kusturica’s cinematography. Eugene’s rebellious voice and Sergey Riabtsev frenetic violin produce yet another ambitious piece of art, more sensible than ever and opening the way to a new philosophical symposium. Did I forget to mention that Eugene is most of all a philosopher?
Before we get philosophical though, Eugene tells me how life on tour is a combat, “an artistic party combat, there’s no any other way to look at it otherwise you’re not gonna make it through. You’re gonna die on tour.” Attending a GB’s concert may look like a limitless celebration where sweat and energy rise at the same pace but in reality, it is a crusade, “Bruce Lee said that you gain the condition and then in a battle you spend it”. People enjoy their gigs because they lose their identity for one night, this is what Eugene promises and explains that “people who are so concerned with their identity are still in a kind of in brio stage of development because it is crucial for them to have that big facade. If u have a lot of things going on inside then this identity issue kind of deals away or is not taken so seriously any longer”. When talking with that unmistakable accent, Eugene is very attentive to what he’s saying but also very straightforward and fun. I ask him about how the identity of the band has changed throughout the years and he has laugh saying “I don’t really analyze these things, there are people who are given good money to analyze and write about it” and after ironising on 70’s band Emerson, Lake & Palmer he continues “For me it is a stage of evolution and all stages are necessary. At this point the band can do anything. I really love this band”.
Maybe I should not analyze things too much as everything is pretty self-explanatory with Eugene, just like the artwork on the cover of “Pura Vida”, an hour-glass smashed by a bullet. “That image is the visual for the saying Fuck the time before time fucks you. There is no urgency behind it, it’s more about liberation because the hourglass signifies the past and the future and people who are too busy living in the past or in the future worrying about it, they are missing out and inept of “Pura Vida Conspiracy”. They can’t feel that life is happening now and now only and that there is no any other life besides now. There never was any as well”. I immediately understand how Eugene’s vision is rooted in the joy of living life in the moment, a fragment of time that, like going on tour, turns out to be a crusade “the world itself and living in the now is already difficult so it is even harder to convey the meaning of it. Some artists are pretty good in bringing this message forward through actions and not words. They have a tremendous power and our band has that power. It simply demands your attention to the now and now only. Western countries are locked up with their shit”.
It is no coincidence that the album is profoundly influenced by a side of the world that is not locked up with any shit, at least when it comes to living life at its fullest: South America. Eugene has been living in Brazil for a while and this Latino vibe is not that different at its core from the Eastern European’s raw and colorful tradition. Can Gogol Bordello be any more global than they have ever been? “Malandrino” sounds so Italian with its Sicilian appeal, “I Just Realized” feels like an Eastern European samba, and as the album unfolds you can’t help but imagine yourself in Mexico, more precisely on a boat along the river of Xochimilco, where the Mariachi entertain people with their music. “Mexicans and Italians for example are liberated from their schedule” he remarks, but what is the most important and universal thing in his life at the moment? “The feeling of unbounded love on all and every level. Music is just one of the ways to express it. The feeling doesn’t come natural at all, you have to cultivate it. For millions of years have been wandering around just to survive, like machines. The feeling of cultivating our positive sides is only coming out now in this time of evolution”.
Eugene’s evolution has never followed a straight line though. From playing gypsy music at Russian weddings to earning a solid following amongst New York’s downtown hipsters, he then became a celebrity in the downtown scene thanks to his Thursday night DJ gigs at Bulgarian club Mehanata. The steps of his journey actually took unexpected turns when he started acting in films like 2005’s “Everything Is Illuminated” starring Elijah Wood and Madonna’s directorial debut “Filth And Wisdom” back in 2008 where he was the main character. You may remember Eugene and Sergey joining Madonna on stage at Wembley Stadium during the Live Earth in 2007 for a completely reinvented and mesmerizing version of her classic “La Isla Bonita” arranged on the notes of “Pala Tute”, but when it comes to dealing with popularity and the music business Eugene doesn’t seems interested nor bothered. “I don’t know I didn’t notice that. I don’t really care and to me the worst thing is to spend my energy on something that I’m expected to do. Maybe I was blessed because from the very beginning I’ve never experienced any kind of external pressure besides my own. No one with commercial pressure ever came about and this is the Chinese philosophy that all ideas will fit and end up where they started. Every journey ends where it started so I’m not surprised that people with commercial tasted did not contact me”.
Eugene and the band have come a long way, and though he admits that traveling around the world is much easier now compared to when they “used to have massive luggages, miss every plane, it was chaos” the concept of traveling always remains a spiritual journey for him. He tells me an old saying that expresses the whole concept behind the film Filth And Wisdom “every man has to go through his hell to get to his heaven”. This is why he would not change a thing, “that would be cheating, you’ve got to do your homeworks before you get good. Every man, woman, and the whole human kind in general have to. There is nothing to change!”. In the same film Eugene featured the band’s song “Wonderlust King” where he sings “And presidents, and billionaires, and generals, they’ll never know what I have owned!” and this is why a journey through your own hell or around the world has nothing to do with discovery or conquering but it has got to do with appreciation. “I think the most precious thing in my life is the joy of being. As simple as it sounds that is the feeling you really don’t wanna ever let go. People prioritize completely insane shit over it like pride and career and I mean they’re suffering and they think it is meaningful but it is fucking meaningless actually. All the good energy in life is rooted into the joy of being and if you are disconnected from it, everything else is worthless”.
I understand how “Pura Vida Conspiracy” is a simple celebration of something we all give for granted: being here no matter what happens around us. “Revolution is internal, Evolution isn’t over” as he sings in “Raise The Knowledge” from their previous album “Trans-Continental Hustle”. Politic is not in Eugene’s vocabulary and the rebellious side of the band has always been directed towards a humanitarian sphere. “I hate politics, sometimes I make fun of it in my work but I am a humanitarian musician, all my lyrics have always been incredibly personal to me. I think we are overestimating the power of people who are in power. They barely have any power, do you understand this? It is like people who have to go and swipe the streets and some other people who have to fucking clean the toilets. Some people have to fucking go and run the country but there’s nothing amazing about it, they are barely holding it together” I think it is a good way to look at nowadays situation sand Eugene remarks “politics doesn’t interest me at all, if you want to get more into this subject you should read more about progressive evolutionary science, Bruce Lipton or something like that. Modern biochemistry, quantum physics and buddhisim when put together they pretty much explain the whole situation from a much more liberating perspective”.
The greatest obstacle standing between us and endless fulfillment is not time, money, or politicians but simply our mentality. In “We Rise Again” the gypsy elements of life, joy, and sadness are explored to lead us to the awareness that life in not about “how long you can last” but the question is “can you start over after all that you have already done?”. This should be the real mentality to have in life as it “already has a lot of power as it is. Sometimes you just need to get the fuck out-of-the-way to make things happen. You have to be one with your life, without spinning the wheel the other way”.
My time with Eugene is ironically running out but I’m glad I got to tap into his philosopher’s mentality and that introspective look at the world that only a modern nomad can develop throughout a lifetime. Not accidentally I ask him what would be his most famous quote if he was a philosopher. Eugene doesn’t seem surprised “I am a philosopher!” he proudly tells me and he seems to be picking up and continuing Roman philosopher Seneca’s doctrine of time. Seneca used to say that life itself is time, something that we ourselves chose, or not, to spend in a full state of consciousness. Cotidie enim demitur aliqua pars vitae, et tunc quoque cum crescimus vita decrescit (every day we die, every day a part of our life decreases and even when we are growing up, in reality life decreases). The purpose of Gogol Bordello’s music is to wake people up, to go the extra mile as far as to “The Other Side Of Rainbow” to discover that “it was black and white”, a metaphor for going too far as Eugene explains. Their purpose is to resonate with the universe and its universal laws and truths, a task that the Wonderlust King feels like he has been facing in one of his previous lifetimes. “I think I’ve been a woman in a previous lifetime, we all have been. Pretty sure I was like… who was I? I’m trying to remember! I think I was the first woman in space! That was me!”
“Malandrino” is someone who always “gets away with it”, a sort of street-smart, screwball type of brother. In Italian it means more or less the same but it is also used to describe a very cheeky and astute kid. In a world where innocence is lost, Eugene Hütz tries to maintain a curious gaze like a child and to remove through his music all the superfluous ways of thinking that keep up from evolving. The spirit of the revolution burns into our souls but the gipsy philosopher warns me, and enlightens me at the same time, with his most famous quote:
“Fuck the time before time fucks you”
He goes back to the soundcheck leaving me thinking… Hoptzalutly!