Monday, September 5, 2011

The Music of Nationalism...the Music of Immigration: Gogol Bordello's Gypsy Punk

Somewhere deep in my soul is a link to Eastern European rhythms that make me sit up and actually like stuff like Klezmer music.

There is something soulful about Eastern European music that often is lost in the schmaltziness of the genre...but at its best it is wonderful. I think I can start with something someone introduced me to in an earlier diary I did on Paul Robeson where Robeson, one of America's greatest singers ever, demonstrated a near perfect grasp of the Yiddish language. To me this is magnificent on so many levels:

The humor, the cynicism and the schmaltziness all shine through in Paul Robeson's version of a very Yiddish song.

There is also a feel of an outcast culture shared by many Eastern European musical genres, shared in, for example, Jewish and Gypsy music that finds very effective ways to thumb its nose at the idiots who have tried to destroy these cultures.

A fascinating sort of "dueling banjos" meeting between Jewish and Gypsy music can be found in this little gem (from the movie "Train de vie" which I have only heard of, never seen):

I have to admit that as I watched this for about the third time I flashed on this scene from the "Let's Kill Hitler" episode of Dr. Who (on my way to a gay gypsy bar mitzvah...)

Fast forward to modern times, where the same Eastern European cultures struggle for significance both within themselves and within a wider world. Today Gogol Bordello captures that mix of humor, the cynicism and the schmaltziness and mixes in a bit of punk.

Gogol Bordello got their start with rebellion against Russianization of the Ukraine, an extension of the nationalism that led to WW I, and which created nations from Serbia and Croatia to Latvia and Estonia...not to mention the Ukraine itself:

Russianization is something I saw the fallout from when I visited Latvia, where my Jewish ancestors came from. The towns we came from have both Latvian and Russian names (Daugavpils/Dvinks and Rezekne/Rezhitzke). The street signs are all in Latvian, but most restaurant menus are in Russian and many people speak Russian. There is tension between the native Latvians and the descendants of the Russian families resettled there during Tsarist and Soviet times.

The Ukraine is an ambivalent ethnicity for me as a Jew since the Ukraine has been a pretty damned bad place for Jews for centuries, without even the golden years that Poland had for Jews. But there is no doubt that the Yiddish culture of Jews has a strong affinity with the music of Gogol Bordello as well as the ambivalent relationship with a wider, mainly Russian culture that shaped both Yiddish and Ukrainian culture perhaps more than either would like to admit. In many ways, the Ukranian rebellion against Russianization and Jewish attempts to retain their uniqueness...and, of course, Gypsy attempts to merely survive, all have many common threads.

Gogol Bordello: Sun Is On My Side

Gogol Bordello isn't afraid of approaching some pretty fucking difficult issues. If facing the choice between the tyranny of fascism (founded by Mussolini) and the tyranny of Stalinism, which would you choose?

(My answer to the dilemma: fight both assholes as hard as you can!...and, I suppose, probably die in the attempt)

For all immigrants...Gogol Bordello - Immigraniada:

Gogol Bordello started from the sense of standing up against Soviet Russia as Ukrainians, with the West as inspiration. But now it seems they are standing up, to some degree, against American anti-immigration paranoia as Ukrainians here in the melting pot of NYC:

To me, as someone very aware of his immigrant roots, I find the anti-immigrant attitude of so many American descendants of immigrants to be sad. I like Gogol Bordello not just because they sound kick ass...but also because they show a true appreciation of the immigrant. And, whether they or I or anyone else wants to admit it, the sounds of Gypsy Punk and the sounds of Klezmer share a great deal in common.

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