Gogol Bordello Goes Beyond Boundaries

Jul 31, 2013
Originally published on July 31, 2013 2:54 pm

The band Gogol Bordello has long been known for its high-energy live performances of their particular brand of gypsy punk rock in shows around the world.

On the band’s new album, “Pura Vida Conspiracy,” frontman Eugene Hütz declares that “borders are scars on the face of the planet.”

As Hütz tells Here & Now, the sentiment is part of a new direction for the band, he’s becoming more focused on music’s ability to break down boundaries, both external and internal.

He says that when an audience is listening to music “they don’t have to think about who they are, what are they going to do. They don’t have to think about of any of that. They actually become who they really are.”

Eugene Hütz performs We Shall Sail for Here & Now


  • Eugene Hütz, Ukrainian-born singer and composer, and frontman for Gogol Bordello.
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Eugene Hutz and his band, Gogol Bordello, have been working audiences into a frenzy since 1999 with their energy-infused gypsy punk rock.


YOUNG: Now Gogol Bordello is releasing its sixth studio album. This cut is called "We Rise Again." It's sort of "We're Not Gonna Take It" with a Ukrainian accent and a quote from Russian poet Yevtushenko about borders. The Boston Globe called the CD "Pura Vida Conspiracy," pure life conspiracy, drenched with joy in its own noisiness. And Gogol Bordello founder and frontman Eugene Hutz is standing by with his guitar in the studios of WRTI in Philadelphia. Eugene?

EUGENE HUTZ: Here I come.

YOUNG: Let's talk about "We Rise Again," and that great lyric. Wasn't it Yevtushenko who said borders...

HUTZ: Yes. Well, it's a paraphrase. Yevtushenko is a, you know, definitely amazing Russian poet. And the line of - it just stuck with me somewhere through the childhood that he was saying that, you know, the borders are scarring the planet. Then, like, years later, you know, after being around the world several times, I return to that line and put it in a song because I already lived it.


GOGOL BORDELLO: (Singing) Borders are scars on the face of the planet. So heal away, my alchemy man. Even atheist holds up the candle. We rise again. We rise again. With a fist full of heart and a relical future, whoopa, we rise again.

YOUNG: Let's remind people. You born in the Ukraine, moved to the U.S. after Chernobyl and then an odyssey through several countries, where you finally settled here. And I think you live in Rio as well. But it's not like you're saying, though, that you are not American or Brazilian. You are even saying you're not even Ukrainian?

HUTZ: I think there is something about every culture that is amazing. Every culture and every language has something to offer that another's don't. And I've been kicking around all Latin America. I've been touring there and just kind of sponging up the vibes. But on the bottom of these things, if you really become a part of the landscape, you start to see through the culture and, you know, it's just another mask. But underneath of it, there lays human spirit and human suffer. And that becomes more obvious than, you know, postcards about carnival.

YOUNG: Tell us about "Malandrino."

HUTZ: "Malandrino" is diminishing from malandro, which is like a little malandro. And the word malandro, I heard just about 10 minutes I arrived in Brazil, people start calling me malandro. So I thought, hmm, OK. And then I learned it was a kind of a street-smart character that just gets everywhere he needs to get through the backdoor somehow. (Laughing) Big part of Brazilian culture.


GOGOL BORDELLO: (Singing) Malandro, malandro, malandrino. Truffaldo, truffaldo, truffaldino. Malandro, malandro, malandrino. I was born with singing heart. Malandro, malandro, malandrino. Truffaldo, truffaldo, truffaldino. Malandro, malandro, malandrino. I was born with singing heart. Those midwifes were like politicians.

YOUNG: So the song "Malandrino" is on the CD. But the name of it, as we said, is "Pura Vida Conspiracy." And as we said, that's, you know, pure life. And what's the conspiracy part?

HUTZ: Well, exactly. It can be viewed as an ironic title. Pure life appears to people as conspiracy. You know, people are too busy living in a future or they're constantly living in the past, and very little amount of people have a sense of presence, here and now. And that's what pure life conspiracy - the whole album is an uplifting album to remind of your authentic sources of joy of being.

YOUNG: Well, Eugene Hutz, that is a lovely sentiment, but we also love it when anyone works the name of our program into their thoughts, because we are also HERE AND NOW. And...

HUTZ: OK. Yes, absolutely.

YOUNG: And here now, you have your guitar with you. One thing that's notable about this new CD is that it's got all of that great exuberance, the noisiness, the joy, the break-the-bar-stools excitement. But it also has some reflective moments. And I know you have your guitar with you there and maybe you could just play us - I think it's - the song is "I Just Realized."

HUTZ: Sure. I can do a little bit of that.

YOUNG: Yeah.

HUTZ: This one's summed up to be kind of a Russian samba, you know?


HUTZ: (Singing) I just realized that I'm dying to see you and hear you all over again and again. When did it start and on which exact moment? Oh, I don't know, and I hope it will end. Maybe tomorrow but probably never. In a swirl of obsession, I helplessly fall. Feeling disguising, so polarizing. Where is the exit? Of course, there is none. Feeling disguising, so polarizing. Where is the exit? Of course, there is none. When did it start, on which exact moment? In a swirl of obsession, I helplessly fall. Feeling disguising and so polarizing. Where is the exit? Of course there is none.

YOUNG: Gogol Bordello frontman Eugene Hutz singing a song off his new album, "Pura Vida Conspiracy." What else are you trying to say with this CD? Not that it has to, you know, be some new message or something, but what do you hope people take from it?

HUTZ: Well, it is a new message in a way that it's more of a focus and crystallization on what music in its not only cultural but even in, like, therapeutical sense has to offer.

Everybody knows that people deeply associate music with a sense of freedom, like they will go to a concert and they'll be like, wow, I felt so free. But why is that so? It is because music destroys people's psychological identity temporarily. They don't have to think about who they are, what are they going to do tomorrow. They don't have to think about any of that. They actually become who they truly are. And the more time you spend in that condition, actually, the more free you feel, and that's - it's accumulative. Then you start taking that feeling into life.

YOUNG: Well, and for those who haven't seen you in concert or on the late-night talk shows performing, when you say freedom, you mean it. I mean, we're talking about shirt off, just going at it.

How do you get that onto the CDs? Because you do.

HUTZ: We record in a circumstance where there's lot of eye contact. I absolutely cannot stand recording in a separate compartment. I don't know how people can do that. It's like what is this, you know?

YOUNG: You're all together.

HUTZ: Gogol Bordello is a kind of a - it's got to get to the point when it feels like we're dancing around the fire together, you know. Once it gets to that point, it's like OK, hit record.

YOUNG: Well, and you have the new CD. It's called "Pura Vida Conspiracy." Eugene Hutz, what should we go out on? Pick one.

HUTZ: At the moment, one of my favorites is "Lost Innocent World."

YOUNG: That's Gogol Bordello frontman Eugene Hutz. Always a pleasure to speak with you.

HUTZ: You as well. Thank you so much.


GOGOL BORDELLO: (Singing) Lost innocent world. My lost innocent paradise. Where did you go? I paid too high a price.

YOUNG: Wild man. We asked Eugene to perform another acoustic song for us, and we will have "We Shall Sail" at hereandnow.org.


From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Jeremy Hobson.

YOUNG: I'm Robin Young. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.