Gogol Bordello on the War in Ukraine, and the Unifying Punk of ‘Solidaritine’

Traveling to an undisclosed location, Eugene Hütz returned to his home country of Ukraine in the thick of the war. Months into the Russian invasion of the country, the Gogol Bordello singer made his way into the country with the Vice news crew in August 2022 to perform a secret concert for soldiers.

Videos by American Songwriter

Once in Ukraine, Hütz, along with three other members of the New York City-based gypsy-punk band who also made the voyage over, performed a full set with members of the National Border Guard Service Orchestra, which he tells American Songwriter, made the performance even more meaningful to the band.

“That was also very powerful because it wasn’t just a gig,” shares Hütz. “It was a real-time collaboration. The people who are in Ukraine, especially the defenders, the fighters, are experiencing reality differently now, so any moral support goes a long way.”

Afterward, the orchestra asked if they could continue playing Gogol Bordello’s songs. “It was also an incredible bonding experience for the band,” adds Hütz, “after all these years of touring just when we saw that there’s no way to bond any further.”

The purpose of the trip, for Gogol Bordello, was to physically show support. “The idea was to signify the support of Ukrainians who live abroad, because Ukrainian people right now hear a lot about moral support, but they don’t see support abroad, physically,” says Hütz. “They don’t believe it until someone makes an effort and is actually there. Then it really escalates.”

The entire experience played out like “seeing the words of these songs,” says Hütz, who began reworking the band’s eighth album, Solidartine, after the war broke out on Feb. 24. “These songs are about victory and the spirit of perseverance, which is what a lot of our music’s about—perseverance and durability and resilience and creed. Integrity is a huge topic for us, since the beginning.”

Running through the veins of Solidaritine is the longstanding message of unity from the multi-cultural conglomerate of multi-instrumentalists and performers that make up Gogol Bordello.

“We just want to give the world a timeless album with messages of human potential and power,” says Hütz of the album.  

“All the music that we’ve been doing since the band got reunited after the pandemic…we were coming straight out of the gate, for real,” adds Hütz. “We’re also not creating music for shoe gazers. Who wants to be shoe-gazing after two years of doing nothing in their room? We were kind writing behind that spirit of reigniting the planet.”

Produced by Walter Schreifels (Rival Schools, Quicksand), Solidaritine, follows the band’s 2017 release, Seekers and Finders, and was reconfigured once the war in Ukraine began. “We were already in the final stages of the album when the war in Ukraine started,” shares Hütz. “We were mixing the last tracks in Brooklyn but having an album that doesn’t address the war was not an option.”

Switching the original title of Knack For Life—also a track on Solidaritine and a subtle play off Iggy Pop’s 1977 album Lust For Life—the band’s original, pre-war album was more a “nod to the street smarts, and the wise of the world,” he says, “the ones they don’t make anymore.” Fueled by the adrenaline of what was happening in Ukraine, new songs began flooding out of Hütz, along with the idea of Solidaritine

“It [‘Solidaritine’] is an imaginary substance —or not— that is the brother of adrenaline,” says Hütz. “It awakens your empathy and solidarity with the ones who are fighting the righteous fight.”

Throughout each hardcore anthemic rush, Solidaritine ignites the spirit of unification and hope, bursting open on “Shot of Solidaritine,” along with a cacophonous rendition of Fugazi’s 1990 Repeater banger, “Blueprint,” fully consumed by its cautionary I’m not playing with you and sung in true Gogol accord. 

There’s the nostalgic pit of “The Era of the End of Eras,” featuring H.R. of Bad Brains, and all its grievances—You left us bleeding on the streets / Where sad eye century’s mascara / Runs over places where we used to meet … Like a fallen angel dominoes / These days they go. “Focus Coin” centers around the “quality of your ability to focus defines everything in your life,” according to Hütz. “Your focus is the hardest currency there is.”

Gogol Bordello (Photo: Sanjay Suchak)

Every lyric plastered throughout Solidaritine is as much a boost for Ukraine as it is of remembrance, recognition of basic human conditions, and a call to do something bigger, for one another, found in the string-pulsing “Forces of Victory,” featuring the Ukrainian poet and novelist Serhiy Zhadan and the Ukrainian electro-folk band Kazka, who are also featured on stomper “Take Only What You Can Carry.”

Describing the album around its release, Hütz said: “Our music was always about perseverance. Rock and roll comes out of a real place. … All of a sudden, humankind encounters these problems like the pandemic and the war. This is when rock and roll is the most necessary and where we perform the best.”

For Hütz, who is originally from Boyarka in central Ukraine, and the rest of Gogol Bordello—made up of new drummer Korey Kingston, bassist Gil Alexandre, guitarist Boris Pelekh, violinist Sergey Ryabtsev, percussionist and MC, Pedro Erazo, and dancer and percussionist Ashley Tobias—their melange of Romani-gypsy folk punk derives from different corners of the world and still convenes in one space. It also explodes on stage in the band’s legendary unpredictable and communal live shows. 

Everything that needed to be said (up until this point) was sung on Solidaritine. And now there’s the wait for triumph in Ukraine. “People are holding up,” says Hütz of Ukraine. “They’re doing their best, and their spirits remain indestructible. And everybody’s really looking forward to victory.”

For Gogol Bordello, touring and performing have taken a new form for the band. “People need healing,” says Hütz. “It’s not just entertainment and wild art therapy any more. The band feels a great responsibility because people really look up to us for those healing vibes. Luckily, we have a pretty good hold of it.” 

Hütz adds, “It’s reigniting and bringing together more different scenes of people. It’s always been our way, but I feel like all kinds of new people are seeking music with uplifting energy now. And we’re looking forward to uplifting and levitating together.”

Gogol Bordello 2022/2023 Tour:

Dec. 31 – Brooklyn Bowl – Brooklyn, NY

Jan. 28 – Feb. 4 – Destination Chaos – Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic
March 1 – Tibet House Benefit Concert, Carnegie Hall – New York, NY
May 25 – Bearded Theory – Derbyshire, England
May 27 – Slam Dunk Festival (South) – London
May 28 – Slam Dunk Festival (North) – London
June 2 – 4 – Jardin du Michel Fest – Bulligny, France
June 16 – Hellfest Open Air Festival – Clisson, France
June 24 – Jera On Air – Ysselsteyn, Netherlands

Photos by Sanjay Suchak / Reybee, Inc.

Leave a Reply

Behind the Meaning of Charlie Puth’s TikTok-Activated “Light Switch”