Rock musician as immigrant rights spokesperson
Interview from http://boingboing.net/2010/09/16/gogol-bordello-immig.html
Gogol Bordello: “Immigraniada (We Comin’ Rougher)”
By Xeni Jardin at 6:28 am Thursday, Sep 16
Boing Boing Video proudly debuts a new music video for the “Gypsy-punk” band Gogol Bordello: “Immigraniada (We Comin’ Rougher),” the new single from Trans-Continental Hustle, the band’s latest album, produced by Rick Rubin.
The video was directed by Isaiah Seret and shot in Los Angeles, chronicling the day-to-day life of an immigrant as experienced by the eight members of this multi-cultural rock band. They’re from Ukraine, Russia, Israel, China, Ethiopia, Ecuador and Trinidad, so the topic of immigration is one with which they’re familiar.
I spoke with lead singer Eugene Hütz about the video, and the “transcultural rock” for which the band is known.
Boing Boing: Can you tell us a bit about how the video came together?
Hütz: It’s a video we always wanted to make, because it completes our story. It’s very autobiographical, and tells a story about eight people who are all immigrants, who came to pursue something in new york city. That’s our biography. But on the other hand, like it coincides with the idealistic belief that people shall always be free to choose the place of their residence. This ties in to the whole movement of worldwide citizenship.
Boing Boing: Worldwide citizenship, what do you mean by that?
Hütz: It’s a new idea for a lot of people, but for us it’s an old idea. It’s an antidote to the politics around the world that have dictated separation and division of communities. Immigration is a crucial part of this idea of world citizenship. In the past, immigration was mostly for economic reasons, or because of natural disaster or war. But now, more and more often it’s an intellectual choice, and an important evolutionary process for the planet. More people are committed to being uniters of communities and cultures, to being people who transcend the understanding of different cultures, people who live by the idea that there is no identity but that of a human being.
Boing Boing: You yourself emigrated to the United States in 1991, after residing in various refugee camps for survivors of the Chernobyl disaster.
Hütz: Yes, I did. I have lived in the Ukraine, Italy, the United States, and Brazil, and of course we’ve traveled so many places as a band now, too. For us as a band, immigration policies— we’ve been affected by them, we know how imperfect they are and how brutal they can be on people. This song speaks about the double standards that immigration policies have. One of the biggest defects of immigration is the hosting coutnry often makes itself look very inviting at first, and once the migrants are there, they are subjected to super serious hardcore beauraucratic terror for a number of years which does not make them feel very welcome. Anything like that should be resolved, it traumatizes people to the bone.
Boing Boing: While the video explores some heavy themes, it looks like it was actually a lot of fun to make.
Hütz: All the scenes in the video, starting with me washing cars, are all autobiographical experiences. I was a car washer once. And when we shot the video, hey, I made some money that day, polishing my old skills. But no, the scenes were not crafted, they were real locations. No hired actors necessary, everything there is legit.
We kind of wanted to take the viewer through a day of and the tasks of the immigrant community, exactly as it is, including all of the nitty gritty side and including the solidarity of immigrants on the party at night where we as representatives of the Russian community go to East LA, to the Latino neighborhoods there, and make a party for kids with our trans-cultural music.
All the kids that you see there are kids from east LA. All the jobs you see performed, are performed in real life. For us it’s a big thing. Our music makes people feel like they’re home, whether they’re Russians who live in Ecuador, Brazilians who live in Canada—I’m very connected to this world citizenship mentality. It means something to me, and to many of us out there.
Boing Boing: Why do you think the issue of immigration has become so intense and divisive in America right now, and are you trying to address some of that in the song? The drones along the US/Mexico border, all the craziness in Arizona…
Hütz: But it’s not just America. The things going on in France and Italy are far worse. This video could have been shot in Moscow, Rome, or Paris, and still ring true. I think politics is a business, and in any business you have positive trends, negative trends. What you are referring to is a kind of current negative trend that has spread, it’s an unnecessary hysteria. I didn’t write this song right now to respond to the current situation, I wrote the song three years ago before the issue began blowing up in its current form. But these issues are always there. We’re connected to them as a band, I am connected to them personally. These issues never go away for us, and they require a deeper solution— a more humanitarian approach than a political approach.
Boing Boing: You’ve been quoted as saying you hate the phrase “world music.”
Hütz: The term itself is just kind of weak and mindless, but that’s not the problem. The problem was that it was used wrongly, and misguided listeners for decades, it blocked audiences from being able to hear worldwide rock and roll culture, because anything not in English went into a world music section, like a trash bin that only nerds and geeks bother to go into. A lot of brilliant multicultural rock and roll music, great bands, never reached rock and roll listeners worldwide. I know these bands. Incredible musicians from Brazil, Russia, Italy, France, that end up in the world music section and never found their audience because they don’t speak English. “World music” ruined a lot of musician’s careers.
Boing Boing: Has the internet helped to undo some of that damage, by helping to connect those bands to new audiences now?
Hütz: Absolutely. It didn’t resolve all the problems for us, but it does help communication. The downside is that it multiplies the volume of bad quality recordings and videos out there. There are so many more of them out there now. The sheer volume of material makes it important for people to realize that they must have their own filter, to find really good quality material out there. Filters are more important now.
Boing Boing: What’s next for you guys?
Hütz: We’re halfway through a big tour: US, Canada, Europe, Latin America. We’re taking a little time off right now to chill, but we’re really looking forward to getting back out on the road.
Boing Boing: I hope to catch one of the shows! Thank you so much for speaking with us.
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