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Last Updated: Saturday, 3 December 2005, 04:31 GMT
Ukraine gypsy punk on world stage
By Kateryna Khinkulova
BBC Ukrainian Service

Elijah Wood (left) and Eugene Hutz
Eugene Hutz (r) stars with Elijah Wood in Everything is Illuminated
Music loving Brits are being treated to a new genre - as a gypsy punk tour by New York-based band Gogol Bordello reaches London on Saturday.

The band's music is already a little familiar to cinema goers - it features in Everything Is Illuminated, a film based on a best-selling book by Jonathan Safran Foer.

Gogol Bordello's frontman, founder and spiritual leader, Eugene Hutz, appears in the film opposite the Lord of the Rings actor Elijah Wood.

Initially invited to do just the music score for the film, Eugene, whose exuberant personality spills over into his performing style, was then asked to play the role of Alex, Wood's character's interpreter.

"We were just talking about music, but then they asked me whether I could, by any chance, act... It came naturally, since my musical career is a mixture of performing art and music as such."

Originally from Kiev, in Ukraine, with family links to Transcarpathia, Eugene Hutz has been permanently living in New York since 1998.


His band, which has been performing in New York's Bulgarian bar, became an integral part of the city's art and club scene several years ago, but remained relatively unknown to the wider public.

I am Ukrainian, but I also have Roma genes and I want to do what I can for these people
Eugene Hutz

Since the release of Everything Is Illuminated, Gogol Bordello's popularity soared: Eugene thinks it is not surprising. He quotes Lenin, who said that cinema was the widest-reaching medium.

At the same time, Eugene Hutz says the success of the band who have just released their third album has not been an overnight thing.

"We've worked hard for it... But what I like best is that I do what I want: I play the music I want with the people I like in the venues I choose. That's the most important thing."

Gogol Bordello is a band whose cosmopolitan concept is taken to the extreme - Ukrainian gypsy Eugene is joined on stage by his Israeli, Thai, American and Chinese-Scottish colleagues.

Gogol Bordello
Gogol Bordello draws inspiration from a mix of cultures
Gypsy punk, a term invented by Eugene himself, is a result of his diverse family roots: as a child he spent a lot of time in Transcarpathia where influences of Ukraine, Hungary, Slovakia and Roma blend to form a unique cultural tradition.

"Roma people and all of gypsy culture is part of what I am, and I love that," says Eugene.

Yet he also cannot help being influenced by contemporary Western music - he says he listened to American and British rock giants as he was growing up.

"I've spent time looking for what I wanted to express in my music, but now, with the third album out, it's much clearer, it has crystallized - this mix of my cultural inheritance and personal experience."


One of Gogol Bordello's best known and oldest songs is "Start Wearing Purple".

Start wearing purple, wearing purple
Start wearing purple for me now
All your sanity and wits,
they will all vanish
It's just the matter of time

Lyrics from Start wearing purple

"It's one of the very few songs I wrote for a girl. I just moved in with my girlfriend in New York. We had a neighbour: an old woman who was always dressed in purple head to toe. She was clearly bonkers. So whenever my girlfriend and I had an argument and she would start screaming at me, I would say: you might as well start wearing purple now."

Eugene Hutz says that music and song writing will remain his main focus, although he would not turn down another film part.

In his native Kiev he is fondly remembered by music scene people as "Zheka" who performed and DJ-ed in various venues in the late 1990s. He says he wouldn't mind going home with a tour but he also has a mission.

Gogol's frontman is also involved in making of a documentary about Ukrainian gypsies: he is determined to let the world know about the living conditions of these people.

"It's appalling, the squalor they live in. They can't call an ambulance, because an ambulance wouldn't come to a gypsy settlement."

"Sure, I am Ukrainian, but I also have Roma genes and I want to do what I can for these people."

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22 Nov 05 |  Entertainment

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