Gogol Bordello’s music covers a lot of ground, but, until recently, Brazilian sounds weren’t part of their act. That changed though when Eugene Hütz, singer of the New York-based klezmer punk band moved to Rio de Janeiro. “I followed a girl,” he says sheepishly, explaining why he moved to South America.
With more than six million people in Rio, the city is a far cry from Boyarka, Ukraine, where he was born, but somehow the mustachioed singer and actor fit right in. “I’ve always had friends there,” he says in a thick Ukrainian accent. “And they think I’m an Argentinean hippie, so I’m not much of a target.”
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While Gogol Bordello hasn’t turned into a Bossa Nova band, Hütz couldn’t help but incorporate some sounds from his new home on his fourth disc, Trans-Continental Hustle.
“My good friend Manu Chao” — another cross-cultural musician who’s hugely popular in Latin America — “and I travelled around Brazil and met all these musicians I used to listen to,” he reveals. “I’d perform with them spontaneously and it turned out they we just as aware of Gogol Bordello as I was of their music.
“Suddenly I was at Carnival making mash-ups and guest appearances and it led me to the idea of recording this Brazilian album.”
While the record definitely has some Brazilian moments — Sun is on My Side borrows its acoustic finger picking from legendary guitarist Joao Gilberto — it’s a stretch to call this a Brazilian album. The disc mostly follows the same trajectory as their previous records — loud, klezmer punk tunes led by Hütz’s frantic delivery and humerous lyrics.
While it’s not as strong as 2007’s Super Taranta!, it’s still a lot of fun; opener Pala Tute’s infectious gypsy dance beat and the singer’s grizzled pipes singing “girls they like the kissing as much as we do,” is hard not to enjoy.
In the past, Hütz has sang about the immigrant experience — coming from another country to North America and some of the challenges that followed — but this album tackles a more traditional musical theme: love. Besides being in love with the girl he chased to Brazil, Rick Rubin, the album’s producer, wanted the band to focus more on their sensitive side.
“He asked us why we were neglecting our love songs,” says Hütz. “He said they were actually some of our strongest material.”
Hütz says they avoided making a record about romance because he though they’d be too soft for fans, but, he points out, “that was the hardest material. It was the real kicker of the album.”
“I had to say something about this whole cross-continental romancing that had been going on,” he adds. “And that’s the whole of Trans-Continental Hustle. It’s not only about different social and cultural experiences, but it’s about life, and surviving this whole thing.”