Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Konono No.1: Live At Couleur Cafe

Pauline Harris reviews "Konono No.1"'s Live At Couleur Cafe.

The musical group Konono No.1 released their "Live At Couleur Cafe" cd a Crammed Discs production in 2007. The music is from the DRC
(Democratic Republic of the Congo) where the group originates from and is a mix of traditional rhythms and melodies using modern instruments or adaptations.

Combining the electric "Likembe" (thumb piano) with various percussive instruments and adding vocal chants and songs produces their unique yet familiar sound of music that can be described as trance like or hypnotic. With instruments created from discarded parts and salvaged machinery these musicians were able to transfer traditional genres into the urban scene proving necessity is indeed the mother of invention.

These celebrated musicians, recently of world renown, have a firmly grounded audience with the Bazongo aficionados in the DRC and have also gained acceptance internationally with their brand of music.

That being said this recent release is a disappointment. It could be that their performance doesn't transfer well in the "live" format seeing that theirs' is not a studio sound per se. The dancing and crowd participation are a magic missing in the "Live" version.

The CD has 8 tracks. Intro is inviting and prepares the listener for a promised smorgasbord of rhythms and sounds. Thereafter the other songs are almost indistinguishable. The tracks all sound alike; "Kule Kule" offers a slight change and if you did not check your monitor you may think it is the second song.

For those who do not speak the language there maybe a loss in translation which would otherwise keep you from making distinctions. But that has never stopped people from around the world from enjoying music from another culture or language. Taken as one long set the album is a success. One cannot be in doubt of where much of the modern sounds from Congo/Zaire got their inspiration.

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Monday, January 14, 2008

Tcheka: Lonji

Howard Male reviews Tcheka's Lonji.

Everything but the kitchen sink ("pan, pasta drainer, tableware...") is used to create the busy, ever-changing percussive backdrop for this Cape Verde guitarist's second album, and the result is ear-tinglingly different. You get the usual gentle balladry characteristic of this wind-swept archipelago but it's juxtaposed to an entirely original mix of African, Brazilian and Caribbean rhythms knocked out, it would seem, on whatever came to hand to keep the sound fresh. Maybe not the cure for the January blues but it could certainly help to ease you through them

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Friday, January 11, 2008

Festival du Chameau

Michael Kessler reports from the Festival du Chameau.

The Festival du Chameau brings vibrant music, hundreds of nomads and Michael Kessler to the middle of nowhere.

We're not in Timbuktu but it sure feels like it. It's been a five-hour flight from Paris to Mali's Mopti Airport, then we're confined to a battered four-wheel-drive for what turns out to be two arse-thumping days and nights over 600 Saharan kilometres. In the middle of the rugged Malian desert on the mountain border of Algeria, hunched up in the back of our dusty truck, I wonder: "Will we ever, ever get there?"

A week ago, when the doctor was jabbing me with yellow fever, polio and hepatitis shots and supplying malaria tablets, I'd tried imagining what a camel festival would look like. The Festival du Chameau is the brainchild of Tinariwen, the international darlings of world music - a group of Touareg nomadic musicians, purveyors of the desert blues, whose political past combined with their hypnotic electric guitars make them local heroes in this, the Adrar des Iforas region of Mali.

I've been told the festival will be a gathering of Touareg nomads from all over the country who have followed in Tinariwen's footsteps and formed bands. Apparently there'll be camel races, music, parades and, yes, plenty of electric guitar.

During the night we speed past dimly lit roadside villages, occasionally stopping for treacly tea or a chat with the internal border police. We arrive in the wee hours at Gao, a parched mud-brick city some 300 kilometres north-east of Mopti. The hotels are closed, so we kip the night in sleeping bags inside a mud hut on the property of our guide's distant relatives.

Four hours later, breakfast is instant coffee, bread and cream cheese followed by four rounds of tea. We thank our hosts, stock up on supplies of rice and petrol, and weave our way through the town's rues - past the Orange mobile phone signs, past the street beer vendors, past the World Massage bar, past the kids playing in mounds of rubbish, and head north to the Sahara desert through plains of grass and umbrella trees.

Soon the soil becomes parched, the trees disappear, the road disappears and the desert is one dry grey moonscape peppered with black stones. Eerie and spectacular, breathtaking, but the location for a festival? In the deep black of the night, the stones give way to big-dipper sand dunes, across which our driver rides blind. I'm hoping he's done this before, as my head hits the roof again.

Three hundred kilometres later, we roll into a nomadic campsite in the border town of Tessalit. The town and its surrounds were once a tourist haven; safari trips in the region were popular and the Touareg nomads are fascinating hosts - noble, hospitable and in constant struggle with the government to establish their claim to the natural resources of the Adrar des Iforas. Incursions by Algerian rebels about 15 years ago ended the safari-led tourism here, and daylight reveals the decadence that's written all over Tessalit - abandoned shops, empty pensiones and barely a visitor in sight.

The festival site is a different story. Another 20 kilometres north of Tessalit we've hit different terrain altogether. We're surrounded by huge black rocks and red-brown cliffs. We wind around the hills, climbing higher and higher. Suddenly, for the first time in two days, we're not alone. Traffic! Three jeeps. The odd camel. We must be close!

And finally we're here, at the foot of the mountains nestled under towering charcoal boulders, on a grassy patch of land that is, well, in the middle of nowhere. Timbuktu has become a metaphor for "middle of nowhere" but while it is now a shadow of the glorious trading outpost it once was, it still has some exotic mosques and bustling markets. The middle of nowhere I find myself in now has no such marks of civilisation.

The sun is blazing as we pull up next to Tent No. 1, belonging to Tinariwen. Players come and go. Here, on their home territory, they know everyone. Slowly their extended family arrives - Touaregs on camelback sporting fake Ray-Bans, digital cameras, mobile phones. Touareg families arrive in jeeps. Everyone has a tent. Market stalls are set up. The open kitchen is preparing the first communal meal of the festival - three slain goats sizzling over open fires. More jeeps speed in, more camels appear. By evening, the temperature has dropped to zero but the expectations are high.

We trudge 100 metres or so in ankle-deep sand, guided by the light of campfires and generator lamps, to a beautiful semicircular stage. Behind the mountains looming over us is Algeria.

Men are seated on rugs to the left; women to the right. A dance space separates them but it doesn't stay empty for long. Tinariwen's Ibrahim Ag Alhabib begins strumming his guitar and lets out his characteristic gentle mournful growl from deep inside his chest. Men and women begin dancing in lines facing one another, egged on by yodelling from the female audience behind them.

Behind us there are jeeps with men howling from the rooftops. Behind them, more men on camels. Barefoot boys wearing David Beckham T-shirts are dancing. There must be 600 of us.

This festival is a new bookend for the hugely successful Festival au Desert, held this weekend in January in Essakane, two hours' drive south-west of Timbuktu. Largely instigated by the Touaregs - principally by Tinariwen - and in its eighth year, the festival is one of the main reasons Westerners visit Mali. Long before it became popular it had attracted Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant. Johnny Depp is rumoured to be a regular visitor. Mali's musical creme de la creme is always here but in recent years the event has drawn European acts eager to join one of the last truly authentic music festivals.

Mali is like that. One of the world's poorest nations, landlocked and bordered by seven countries, plagued by a drought that has crippled 60 per cent of the country, this former French colony nonetheless remains a mecca for those itching for a Sahara safari and, more importantly, to listen to the blues. Mali has an extraordinarily rich musical heritage - the late Ali Farka Toure, Salif Keita, Mory Kante, Habib Koite and Oumou Sangare are international world-music stars in their own right.

And, of course, there's Tinariwen. Theirs is a fascinating story. Drought and political conflict in the '70s and '80s forced many Malian Touareg men to look for work in neighbouring countries such as Libya and Algeria. Ibrahim and his colleagues ended up in Colonel Gaddafi's training camps under the illusion they were being trained to create an autonomous Touareg state in the Sahara.

From their military camps, Ibrahim and his early Tinariwen compatriots recorded rebellion cassettes that were distributed to Touaregs all over Africa - Nigeria, Algeria, Libya, Mali, and Chad. Many of the band's members fought in the 1990 rebellion against the Malian government and they witnessed the 1996 burning of arms in Timbuktu, which marked a new era of relative peace between the Touaregs and the national government. Once peace was declared, the loose collective of musicians decided to dedicate themselves to the music.

Understand their nomadic blues and you better understand the vast space of the desert. "There's always that certain bite in the guitar, which complements the gentleness and provides the yin and the yang of desert life, which is bittersweet," says Andy Morgan, Tinariwen's manager. "There's the harshness of the midday sun and the softness of sunset."

After two days of Touareg desert blues, it's time for the long haul home. Tinariwen and their families return to their home town of Kidal before a year-long tour of Europe and the US. As we travel back to Gao through a sandstorm, I glimpse a Touareg family herding their goats and camels in the searing wind. I remember someone telling me that a Touareg's life is lived hand to mouth, a constant struggle to survive.

Many visitors travel in Mali by boat up the Niger River during the dry months of December to March. I'll stick to doing it overland, sore bottom and all, to the sound of the desert blues.

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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Selection from This Is London's Music Review of the Year.
By Simon Broughton

Orchestra Baobab: Made in Dakar (World Circuit)
With lyrical vocals, ringing guitar lines and funky sax, Senegal's Orchestra Baobab are the best band in Africa. They formed in the Seventies, broke up in the Eighties and re-formed about five years ago. With Nick Gold's expert production, this is a glorious album.

Fanfare Ciocarlia: Queens & Kings (Asphalt Tango)
There's a real buzz about Balkan gipsy music right now and, backed by Romania's lightning-speed brass band Fanfare Ciocarlia, this magnificent showcase of Roma stars shows you why. It includes Macedonia's formidable Esma Redzepova and other top artists from Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary and France in a characteristic mixture of the exuberant and soulful.

Bassekou Kouyaté & Ngoni Ba: Segu Blue (Out Here)
Bassekou Kouyaté has made a real impact with this album and his live shows. From Mali, Kouyaté is the acknowledged master of the ngoni, the West African desert lute. What he's put together here is a funky quartet of the instruments with lilting vocals by his wife Amy Sacko.

Mario Pacheco: Clube de Fado (World Connection)
This CD is like an evening in a top Lisbon fado club. Pacheco is a fine composer and guitarist and, alongside a couple of singers from his club, guest performances from star fadistas Mariza and her male equivalent, Camané, this disc includes some beautiful guitar instrumentals.

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Trilok Gurtu

Indian percussionist Trilok Gurtu's year in review.

Trilok Gurtu and his Talking Tabla have been associated for 20 years with great musicians of India like his mother Shobha Gurtu, Zakir Hussain, Ustad Sultan Khan and Shankar Mahadevan, African divas like Omu Sangare from mali ,Angelique Kidjo from Benin and Salif Keita from Mali. He has performed a drum solo with John Maclaughlin and a song with pop great Nene Cherry. He also presented 2 live tracks at the opening of the Indian Festival in Copenhagen.

Trilok also presented a concert at Amsterdam’s prestigious Concertgebouw, where the video of his career was shown and he also played with one of top pop groups of Holland called Blof. The queen of Holland was also present.

Trilok also performed at the Hindu Festival in Chennai with Selva Ganesh and his father Vikku in a sold-out concert and did recordings with Omara Portundo in Cuba and Turkish pop star and Eurovision winner Sertab this year. In 2008, Trilok will perform at the prestigous Celtic Festival, the Brughausen & Bremen Festival in Germany and in Spain with Flamenco, Brazilian and African musicians and with Jan Garbarek and others.

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Interview with Albert Mazibuko (Ladysmith Black Mambazo)

Ryan Alan interviews Albert Mazibuko founding member of Ladysmith Black Mambazo.
It is not necessary to understand their language to have their message come through says Albert Mazibuko of Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

The Grammy Award-winning group from South Africa, which opens 2008 with three New England concerts, continues to make its meaning clear with joyous, spiritually uplifting and life affirming music and intriguing native choreography that quickly get to the heart of what they are all about.

"We sing of peace, love and harmony. We've always sung a message of people working with each other to find a better place for all," said Mazibuko, a veteran member of Ladysmith. "The way (founder) Joseph (Shabalala) has constructed the voices in the group brings about a lovely, beautiful sound."

Sometimes people want to know exactly what the group is singing since they vocalize primarily in Zulu, Mazibuko said. "We understand this, but sometimes it's best to listen to the CD as you would an instrumental recording. We don't use instruments, we use our voices so we want people to listen to our singing as if our voices were instruments, creating a sound for people to listen to," he explained.

Ladysmith performs at 11 a.m. on Jan. 15 at St. Paul School in Concord, 8 p.m. on Jan. 16 at The Colonial Theatre, Pittsfield, Mass., and 8 p.m. Jan. 18 at Sanders Theatre at Harvard University.

Mazibuko said that Shabalala founded Ladysmith Black Mambazo in the early 1960s and he continues to lead the group today.

"Ladysmith is from Zululand in South Africa and we are very proud of our culture and history. We sing a traditional style of Zulu music called Isicathamiya," Mazibuko said.

This incorporates a style of dancing known as "tip toeing," developed in the 1950s when the black men in South Africa were sent to work in the mines, and elsewhere, and were away from their homes for months at a time.

When they would entertain themselves by singing and dancing, the guards would stop them because they said the dancing was too loud. So the miners developed a style of dancing called "tip toeing" so they wouldn't disturb the guards.

"Our mission these past 40-plus years has been to spread our Zulu culture to all parts of the world. The best way to keep our culture alive is through what we do. The young people forget their history because of western influences. We don't want them to forget their history," Mazibuko explained.

In their travels, they have found their audience has no boundaries.

"Young, old and in between come to hear us sing. We've been told we're a great show for people who have just met and begun dating. We also have been told that families enjoy coming to our shows because everyone comes together from our performance. We seem to touch something in everyone. It is truly a blessing we are conscious of everyday."

He enjoys making a connection with audiences "and seeing in their faces how much they are enjoying what we do on stage."

Ladysmith, he said, has always delivered a message of positive thinking, of keeping yourself on the road to being a better person.

"It's easy to get angry and adopt a negative attitude, since there are so many problems in our world. But, we've always believed that you can rise above your problems by keeping a positive attitude. It helps keep you focused on what you can do in life. Yes, it comes in part from our spirituality, but it's just something that is a part of our culture."

That is reflected in Ladysmith Black Mambazo's latest CD, "Ilembe: Honoring Shaka Zulu," set for worldwide release Jan. 15.

"Joseph is always writing songs and ideas. We constantly practice them to find the right way to finish them. Since we hadn't recorded new songs since 2003 we did spend a lot of time working on these songs. As well, since it had been so long (for us) to record new traditional songs, we wanted to praise King Shaka. He is very important to our people and history."

Mazibuko does not view this as a concept album, carrying through with a theme or group of themes.

"In all of our recordings we try to convey a message of peace, love and harmony. We try to bring all people together," he said.

"It's closing in on 50 years since Joseph first formed his own group and it's important for us to show people we remain true to who we have always been. Sometimes people don't like when we try recordings that aren't pure tradition. We understand how they feel, though we still believe it very important for any creative group to try new and different ideas. However, for us, returning to tradition is very important."

As with all of their traditional recordings, Mazibuko said the group hopes that people find this CD "interesting and beautiful." "We try to convey a feeling of love of people. We try to convey a message of peace."

As to the role the members' spirituality plays in the creative process, he said,

"Our spirituality is very important to us, (and expressed) more in who we are and what we are trying to do then in the context of our songs."

Some of the songs are of a religious nature and are important to the group, he acknowledged.

"However, we know people have various views on religion and we're not trying to force our feelings on others. They can take from these songs what they want."

Many people seem impressed with the optimism Ladysmith maintains about life, regardless of the challenges that it and everyone faces. Keeping such a positive attitude is important, Mazibuko said.

"This is not just us, but all the black people in South Africa. Apartheid could have made our people an angry, vengeful population but we didn't let this happen. Of course there was some of this, and continues through today. But if you consider all that our people have endured, we've kept a very positive attitude toward life and our future," he explained.

"We knew better days were ahead and we knew we would enjoy them when they came. Of course we hated apartheid and the conditions we were forced to live in, but we didn't let this destroy our joy of life."

In the press liner notes for the new CD, Joseph Shabalala spoke about various songs on the album.

Of the track, "Iphel'" Emasini," based on a Zulu proverb, he said the essence of the message is: "Try to look past the bad things and focus on the good things, Otherwise, you'll be afraid to enjoy life."

When Albert Mazibuko is asked if it is realistic in these troubling times to believe that people will embrace this message and act on it, he responded with his own question.

Mazibuko: "Isn't it better to have such a message that can reach some people than not to have such a message at all?

"We cannot say 'things are so bad let's all just give up.' We cannot follow that message. What will overcome terrible times are messages from people about rising above the bad, about being a better person. If it positively affects one percent of the people who hear it, then it was a good thing to do. If it affects more than one, that's even better. Black South Africans have had little to look forward to in their lives, but we did not give up. We didn't feel it was unrealistic to look toward a day when we would have better lives. How awful our lives would have been if we did."

Music remains a way to bring people together, to bridge cultures and countries, he added. "Music cannot be stopped by borders and boundaries. Music is about people coming together and having an experience that will, hopefully, better their lives."

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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Ibrahim Ferrer: Mi Sueño

Selection from Jim Harrington's Top 10 jazz records of last year.
1. "Mi Sueno," Ibrahim Ferrer (World Circuit/Nonesuch) -- The title translates to "My Dream," a reference to Ferrer's lifelong ambition to record an entire album of boleros. That dream remained just that for decades, due to a widely held belief in the industry that his voice wasn't the right fit for the deeply romantic style of Latin music, but he finally got the chance to record such an album. Unfortunately, the Cuban vocalist, who came to fame as part of the "Buena Vista Social Club" documentary film and recordings, died in 2005 before he could put the finishing touches on the album. From his deathbed, as the story goes, the 78-year-old star dictated a letter asking that "Mi Sueno" be completed in his absence.

Two years later, the album finally surfaces, and it's nothing less than an absolute dream. The tracks are all breathtaking, and Ferrer's performance, in my mind, further cements his place among the very best singers in history. "Mi Sueno" is a work of understated elegance, yet bursting with romance, and it's the single greatest new disc -- of any genre -- that I heard in 2007.

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Saturday, January 05, 2008

Top Ten Albums Of 2007

Selection from Cinema Blend's Top Ten Albums Of 2007.
1. Gogol Bordello – Super Taranta
Gogol Bordello tops my list this year, if only because their music is intelligent, addictive and actually makes you laugh out loud. “Who's crawlin' up my spine – alcohol/ I've been waiting long long time – alcohol/ Now you teach me how to rhyme – alcohol/ Just don't stab me in the back with cartisol,” frontman Eugene Hütz sings on “Alcohol”, one of the most surprisingly successful tracks on the album. It’s surprising because it’s a slow ballad (albeit to alcohol) that grabs as much attention as any of their manic tracks have on their past releases. This isn’t to say, though, that their usual style of frantic Eastern-European folk-punk is anywhere near forgotten; if anything, they’re at the top of their gypsy-punk game with songs such as “Wonderlust King” and “American Wedding”. It’s like Borat in audio form—hysterically brilliant, subtly clever and topped with an awesome moustache.

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Friday, January 04, 2008

Tcheka: Lonji

Robin Denselow reviews Tcheka's Lonji.

It's suddenly a golden era for Cape Verde, off the coast of Senegal. Once known for their mournfully brilliant superstar, Cesaria Evora, the islands have produced a batch of impressive new singers, from Lura to the exquisite Mayra Andrade. On this showing, Tcheka deserves to join them, thanks to an album that matches light, soulful vocals with rhythmic, subtle and inventive acoustic instrumental work. He was once a cameraman for the islands' TV station, and there is a wide-screen quality to his stories of childhood and local life, and songs that often change mood and pace, under the confident control of his producer, the Brazilian star Lenine.
The album is dominated by the acoustic guitar work of Tcheka and his co-writer, Hernani Almeida, which is matched against unexpected percussive effects (including "hubcap" and "telephone book with brushes"), along with trumpet and accordion. The result is a gently driving, constantly changing set. However, it's unfortunate that no translation is provided for such apparently clever and thoughtful songs as Scarecrow and The First Time I Went to the Cinema.

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Thursday, January 03, 2008

Selection from the Sunday Times Records of the year.

1 SIMPHIWE DANA The One Love Movement on Bantu Biko Street (Gallo/Warner) A 21st-century take on Miriam Makeba, if you will, as the charismatic South African singer glides through an ethereal song-cycle that blends township soul with black-consciousness slogans and dreamy mysticism. Dana’s ingeniously layered vocals create their own utterly individual soundscape.

2 BUIKA Mi Nina Lola (Warner Jazz) If you can imagine Billie Holiday or Nina Simone being reincarnated as a flamenco artist, you have some idea of the intensity of Buika’s fusion of Andalusian fire, sleek jazz and upmarket R&B. A voice to die for. The sultry piano-based arrangements are flawless too.

3 TARAF DE HAIDOUKS Maskarada (Crammed Discs) Have the wild men from the Romanian hinterland finally been tamed? Not at all. This high-spirited assault on the classical repertoire - from Bartok to Khachaturian and Manuel de Falla - is a million miles from bland crossover. The reckless spirit of the gypsy strings sweeps all before it.

4 IBRAHIM FERRER Mi Sueno (World Circuit) Farewell, old friend. The valedictory performance from the great Cuban singer, his ballads given exemplary backing by that young keyboard firebrand Roberto Fonseca. Ferrer’s wistful duet with the great Omara Portuondo on the standard Quizas, Quizas is simply heart-stopping.

5 MAYRA ANDRADE Navega (Stern’s) Just pipping the delightful album by her Cape Verdean rival, Lura, the youthful Paris-based vocalist celebrates the multifaceted heritage of the islands, and throws in a hint of chanson for good measure. The lissom Andrade briskly upstaged Angélique Kidjo at the Barbican recently. Remember the name.

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Interview with Gogol Bordello's Eugene Hütz

Joe Adler interviews Gogol Bordello's lead singer Eugene Hütz.

Does Eugene Hütz, strike you as particularly laid back? You think he stands stoically in front of his microphone like Thom Yorke? Nope. Hütz, the Urkranian born lead singer of gypsy punk band Gogol Bordello is particularly animated, and he’s not ready to stand back and let his guitarist do the talking.

Gogol Bordello’s latest offering, Super Taranta! is their second stellar album, following 2005’s GYPSY PUNKS: Underground World Strike and has put the band as leaders of a new genre. Gogol Borello is molding Eastern European and Gypsy influence with Western culture within a scene that includes Balkan Beat Box, Beirut and DeVotchKa. Comprised of eight other members, Gogol is arguably one of the most captivating live acts today, with Hütz leading the band to their on-stage blow-up of fury and joy.

As an avid supporter of Romani Rights, Hütz uses his music to introduce the gypsy culture to a wider audience. He is also one of the curators of the annual New York Gypsy festival and an acclaimed actor having starred in 2005’s Everything is Illuminated alongside Elijah Wood. In 2008, Hütz will play the lead character in Filth and Wisdom, the film that marks Madonna’s directorial debut.

Glide recently had a chance to talk with the always energetic Hütz, who, with song titles like "Think Locally, Fuck Globally" speaks his mind as openly as making the moustache cool again.

Eugene, it’s been a crazy few months for you, how are things?

Been fantastic man. Doing multiple nights in the cities and bombing people with new material. And I’m already, pretty much in the middle of writing the next record.

Is that going to be an expansion of your past work or something completely new?

It’s always a new revolutionary incarnation of it, you know. I don’t have the outline of it and I imagine it will sound not like what I think now. The writing process is well in the middle of it. Right now for me a lot of things came into focus, a kind of coherency of what we’re doing came more into focus. So I’m not sure if we’re now going to fuck it all up and make it entirely incoherent or make it even more coherent. I don’t know.

Do you collaborate with the rest of the band in your writing process?

I collaborate on arrangement a lot, which is why you read: words by Eugene and music by Eugene and Gogol Bordello. I write the songs but because there are so many different instruments and with the process of arraignment, things can really expand.

So please talk about back in your childhood, the Refugee Relocation program and your move from Kiev to the U.S. How did it affect your creative experience?

By the time I was done with the Refugee program I could swear in five different languages only because I was living with Czech and Romanian and with Albanian and so on and so forth. So, of course, that developed more to play with as I met many different kinds of people. And that brought new color for me right away you know. And these were not people on the calmer side of things, these were pretty much the more wilder kind of ethnicities. I would say that. So we had the good times and the bad times with them but it was just a kind of school of getting along I suppose. A school of getting along with people that you would not
normally choose to hang out with.

So about how old were you when you first started playing music?

There are many photos of me when I was two, three, four, five and six years old with guitars. I don’t know, somewhere around that time.

At this point have you met any of the musicians who influenced your style?

Oh for sure. Now I know people from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, and one of them produced our first record and then their producer produced our last record. I guess I didn’t fall off that fucking far from the tree you know. So I guess that kind of made me feel more optimistic in a sense of, that life, is once again possible and things can get better. And the romantic idea that I had in youth, that this kind of aesthetic tree is growing throughout the world where this kind of school keeps on living. So that’s a very exciting part for our band and me.

Are there other influences of yours that you would like to get together with?

You know Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Sonic Youth, Primus and yeah I haven’t met Tom Waits yet. But at the same time he is one house away from Les Claypool and Les Claypool has been playing on his records for the last ten years.

So is Tom Waits someone who had a great influence on you and your musical style?

Actually he didn’t influence it all that much, he is more like somebody that I could easily understand and I can have an affinity for and I can relate to. Actually we were casted for a movie together except for that I ended up not doing that movie because of a tour. It is a movie called Wristcutters and I was supposed to play the lead role but I bailed out on that movie because I had a European tour, three month log tour and music is my life you know. Tom was in this movie and we made the soundtrack so there is an interesting connection like that going on all of the time. But I don’t feel like Tom Waits influenced me in one way or the other. He was just great. I gained much more from The Birthday Party and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and that neck of the woods.

So going more into the movie thing. First, your role in Everything Is Illuminated is inspiring. You portrayed or embodied the role of “Alex” in a way that came across as maybe being close to your own personality. Do you identify with the character?

Well you know, I greatly appreciate when people say things like you just said, that they completely see me in the character. And that’s because a lot of thought goes into it because, essentially that character is an absolute creation and there is nothing what-so-ever similar between that character and me. When I was doing press for the movie, people were always looking so disappointed that Alex was not sitting there, that was sitting there was the person that played Alex. Which just shows that the role was very successful.

People were literally in grief because the guy actually doesn’t exist. But that’s what good acting does, you completely convince people that that character should be alive. I was playing a 20 year-old virgin. I was 32 years old by that time and what I had behind me was far from being misinformed.

Could you tell me a little about your new film Filth and Wisdom.

I can say a little about it. I play the lead role, this time it’s much closer to my actual character, to actual me. I play the lead singer of Gogol Bordello you know. The whole band is in it and the reason for that is that actor herself, Madonna.

She’s been a great supporter and fan of our band. It was almost just a matter of time before we did something together. People, even the creators of Everything Is Illuminated, from them I knew she was a fan of our band. So I wasn’t entirely shocked when it happened, when I heard from her.

Did Gogol Bordello record music for the soundtrack?

There is about four or five or six songs from Gogol Bordello in that movie. I’m flying to London to do the screening to see the film next week actually. And it’s not a short film anymore, it’s a full feature. So to hell with the shorts man, nobody needs ‘em!

Was it during the filming of Filth and Wisdom that the opportunity came together for you and Sergey (violinist Sergey Ryabstev) to perform with Madonna at Live Earth?

Yeah it actually came together on the last day of shooting. And I always carry my guitar with me. Madonna very cleverly noticed that the songs that I’m playing, the gypsy songs, during the breaks (in filming) just to entertain people and myself, they were very much connected with the Spanish key and she had a song ("La Isla Bonita") in a Spanish key so we put two songs together, basically five days before the Live Earth.

I watched the performance online and that was by far the best performance of the day. It came across as being so polished.

That’s what we were shooting for, something that people could not conceive in their minds. Do it cleverly and do it musically well. The way that the songs were put together was very much with respect to both songs. And the only real part that she changed from my suggestions is she made our parts twice as long. I had an incredible time working with her. Coming from the underground and never knowing that much about pop culture and never being a part of pop culture for me to work with somebody like Madonna was like a walk on another planet. I just realized how special she was as a person and how different her methods and how hard her work is in contrast to most of the people in pop culture with power and huge bull dozing egos and no message. That was the way I learned why she was such an inspiration to the whole generation. Person to person, that’s how I learned.

So I was reading about your New Rebel Intelligence concept, could you talk about that and where it came from?

It came directly from the nature of the band. Obviously it’s very diffuse personnel, not only country-wise but interest-wise. It’s like one person is into meditating, and another person is into mysticism, and the third one is into aliens, and the forth one is completely happy and doesn’t drink. It’s very diverse, all the walks of life, we are in the middle of it. We become the center of all these things at once.

To me that is like a new picture of the world because I believe the people that are gathered in our band are very progressive and intelligent personalities, just of different kinds. Processing everybody’s information all at once, from cosmology to basic remedies in art and therapy and so on and so forth are coming together with this idea of connecting dots and just having a certain walk of life that keeps all those things together. Which is most notably is independent intelligence, independence of thought and open mindedness. But not the new age kind of open-mindedness and, fucking, raising the awareness. I don’t fucking believe in raising the awareness, I believe in fucking getting down. Getting down with the shit and making it fucking happen. Not tomorrow, but today, starting now!

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