"Gypsy punk" and  Carpathian rap in the music of the band Gogol Bordello

Nov. 14, 2023

"Gypsy punk" and  Carpathian rap in the music of the band Gogol Bordello.

Who is Eugene Hütz, and what do the Roma have to do with it? We talk about the iconic American musician of Ukrainian-Roma descent in our material.

From the Carpathians to the streets of New York. 

Every archival photograph from his concerts still exudes the energy of people and instantly comes alive with the sounds of applause, excitement, and the unrestrained love of hundreds of spectators. In one of the photos, he holds a Roma flag: a blue-green background with a wheel in a cart—a symbol that represents the wandering tradition of the Roma people. In others, he's dressed in an embroidered shirt with a trident on his chest, captivating an American audience of thousands. Long, tousled hair, torn shirts on a bare torso, dark mustache, a sparkle in the eyes. Eugene Hütz is a renowned American musician and film actor, the founder and leader of the band Gogol Bordello.

This musical formation is interpreted as an international punk-rock band because the mosaic of members is diverse: originating from and emigrating from Eastern Europe. Their music is a genuine live performance or a theatrical act that creates an unforgettable mix of carnival, comedy, farce, and cabaret. Their melodies and motifs transport the listener to the most remote villages in the Ukrainian Carpathians, where a blend of different nationalities—Ukrainians, Jews, Hutsuls, and Roma—is concentrated and interwoven. The authenticity of the motifs and rhythms not only allows one to feel the melodies of the music itself but also delves deeper into the ancient roots of their own people, which resonate as impulses from the stage. The music of Gogol Bordello is unique because it comprises influences from Ukrainian-Carpathian, Romani, and Klezmer folk music. The accordion, violin, and saxophone are the main leitmotifs in the rhythms of Gogol Bordello.

Wanderers and emigrants 

Eugene was born in the town of Boyarka, which is in the Kyiv region. Later, he moved with his parents to the western part of Ukraine. So, in 1986, the Hütz family lived near Stryi, near Mukachevo in the town of Svaliava. Later, they relocated once more, this time further east to the Voroshilovgrad region, which was renamed Luhansk in 1990. That part of the country was home to many representatives of the Roma nationality. However, since the beginning of the Russian occupation in 2014, many of them scattered, relocating elsewhere. Eugene's family lineage also retains the history of a Roma lineage, or as he himself says, "Gypsy." The family of the prominent American belongs to the Roma-Servit group. This ethnic group formed in Ukraine from Serbian Roma who arrived in Ukrainian lands at the beginning of the 17th century.

"Gypsies often hide their nationality due to discriminatory reasons. They dye their hair white and say they are Moldovan. That's why most of our people moved here from the Luhansk region after the war and were here. And then they dispersed - some to Estonia, some to Lithuania, some to Kyiv. Sometimes I still meet with various members of this particular family," explains Eugene Hütz in one of his interviews for Ukrainska Pravda. 

From Soviet shackles to freedom and democracy.

Eugene's family left Ukraine in 1989. At that time, the Soviet ideology severely restricted freedom of thought, making it nearly impossible for the family of musicians, who valued the principles of freedom and democracy above all else, to live within the constraints of the authoritarian machine. As an immigrant in America, the young and ambitious musician continued to work on his musical career and aimed to create his own band. He intended to make a mark on the world but on his own terms, not dictated by society's expectations.His Roma luck—being a free "wanderer"—helped him stay true to his own values and not lose sight of his own compass. He remained true to himself. Eugene Hütz refers to his music as "Gypsy punk." The band, founded in 1999 in New York by a Ukrainian of Roma descent, captured the hearts of millions, becoming a cult sensation across America.

Throughout his music career, Eugene Hütz played with some of the most brilliant and iconic stars of the American stage: Madonna and Patti Smith—individuals who became not just musical collaborators but also close friends for the Ukrainian musician of Roma descent because they share the same values—freedom and free thinking. One of the recent photos shows Eugene Hütz alongside the "punk poetess" or as she's also known, the "godmother of punk rock"—Patti Smith. Both pictured with Ukrainian symbolism. Both performing the Ukrainian national anthem. Both supporting the struggle of Ukrainians.

"Here. Exactly where I should be. The right place at the right time"

Since the beginning of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, his social media is flooded with blue-and-yellow flags, words in support of Ukrainians, and calls for the struggle of a free and independent people. The musician expresses his civic position and actively begins to advocate a pro-Ukrainian stance. In early spring 2022, Eugene Hütz, alongside musicians Les Claypool, John Lennon's son Sean, Stewart Copeland (The Police), Billy Strings, and Sergey Ryabtsev (Gogol Bordello), presented a song about the President of Ukraine— "Zelensky: The Man With the Iron Balls."

Later on, a new collaboration emerged with poet and musician Serhiy Zhadan and Kazka band's vocalist Oleksandra Zaritska, releasing a song about Ukraine titled "Forces of Victory." Additionally, Gogol Bordello released a track about territorial defense.

This summer, without hesitation, Eugene travels to Ukraine to personally shake hands with Ukrainian defenders, visiting the frontlines and positions of the Ukrainian military. He spends time with them amid shelling, singing for them and expressing his gratitude and support.

In one photo, Eugene is wearing a T-shirt with the word "Volia" (the will) written on it. He has a Ukrainian flag on his shoulders, standing alongside Ukrainian soldiers. In his hands, the musician holds a guitar, the same one he once used to captivate audiences on the stages of New York. It is a symbol of his personal weapon and freedom, wherever he may be.

"Here. Exactly where I should be. The right place at the right time," captions Eugene Hütz, the star of the American stage. A Ukrainian of Roma descent.