It doesn’t matter where people come from, everyone loves good songs!
Yuriy Gurzhy is a founding member and one of the frontmen of the Berlin band RotFront. Gypsy Music Network spoke with him about their new album “17 Deutsche Tänze”, the collaboration with Marla Blumenblatt and how a pop song in the Emigrantski Republik should sound like.
yuriy gurzhy
Hi, Yuriy. How’s it going? Is everything OK?
It sure is, thanks! We just did a tour at home with RotFront. Then I spent a week in Rome and Tuscany recharging my batteries and now I have just arrived back in Berlin.
Your new album “17 Deutsche Tänze” has been out since the end of April (2014). What kind of feedback are you getting? Are you happy with it?
We ourselves are very pleased with the album. So pleased, in fact, that we are extremely sure that it has turned out very well. All our friends and fans we have been able to talk to also think it’s great. With some it takes a while, but in the end, they all always end up loving it.
I’m happy to hear that. I’ve also got it on repeat all the time. One of the most beautiful and most powerful songs on your new album is “In Paris” with Marla Blumenblatt. How did you end up working together?
Somewhere I saw the video of Marla’s song “Cornetto” and was really impressed. I’m not a big specialist in “contemporary German music”, but I found her retro sound extremely refreshing. After a couple of days, when I had already got her album, I found out that we were neighbours. She lives right around the corner from me! That’s what I call kismet! A couple of days later we met up for a coffee and wrote the song together. What a great experience!
Your music attracts the most diverse attributes: Eastern European, Russian, Ukrainian, Hungarian, klezmer, punk, ska, etc. What I noticed, though, is your pronounced sense of pop melodies and catchy hooks. Where does this pop appeal come from?
No one really makes WORLD MUSIC! At the most, there is traditional music from a country, there’s that. But the absolute majority of the bands normally considered as world music acts, just do what they feel like. Cool music that they’ve got in their heads with elements that they happen to know and appreciate. The fact alone that a singer comes from Japan or the Balkans doesn’t make his music good. That might be a bonus, but nothing more.
There have to be good songs! It doesn’t matter where people come from, everyone loves good songs! Songs that grab you, where everyone can sing along to the chorus – that is our aim. We tell our stories and package them as pop songs, but in a form that would probably exist only in the Emigrantski Republik!
What I hear in your music is a strong hip-hop influence. Reminiscences of Beastie Boys, your look in general in your photos, and the ghetto blaster in particular, and, of course, Mad Milian’s raps. What are your influences, your musical heroes?
Mad Milian would certainly have his own take on that. My first hip-hop album, heard back then in the Ukraine, was “Home Invasion” by Ice-T. And then Public Enemy, Geto Boyz, and of course, “Licensed to Ill” by the Beastie Boys.
By the way, my favourite LPs as a 10-year-old were also “Iceberg” by Ice-T and “Fear of a Black Planet” by Public Enemy. Can you get into German rap? Is there any interesting rap in the Ukraine or Russia that you can recommend?
I can’t really get into German rap. There are many interesting Ukrainian and Russian rap artists, but it is difficult to recommend something because it’s all about the content and if you don’t understand the language...
Sure. What kind of musical socialisation have you had? What influenced you personally? What kind of music did you grow up with?
In the flat in Charkov where I grew up with my parents and grandparents and where I lived until I was 14, I listened to my grandfather’s entire music collection. Dschinghis Khan, Boney M, Italo disco, and also the Barry Sisters and Soviet underground klezmer. Things like that. Anything you could get your hands on back then. And then, after years of isolation, there was suddenly an avalanche of music – everything from the Beatles to the Sex Pistols to Psychic TV and Coil.
You were 20 when you came to Germany. What kind of effect did the country have on you? How did Germany receive you?
Germany was very good to me. I was busy the first years sampling alcoholic drinks. That took up rather a lot of time!
You all founded RotFront in 2003, but your first album wasn’t released until 2009. Why did it take so long for it to come out?
Back then we had neither a plan nor a concrete vision. We were a cover band, but different from what you would normally expect. In Germany (but, of course, not just here!), you earn your money by playing always the same well-known hits. We didn’t want to do that. We, on the contrary, covered our personal favourites that no one in Berlin knew. Soviet hits, songs from Hungarian cartoons and such stuff.
In the beginning we didn’t have a permanent line-up and our repertoire and musicians changed completely from concert to concert. Later we slowly started writing songs.... and at some point, we then had enough for an album. But it took a while!
Do you still take on new band members in your collective or has a stable band constellation formed over the years?
The collective is a family, and like every normal large family, it grows.
Do any of the individual RotFront members have any solo plans? Can we look forward to some solo albums soon by Yuriy Gurzhy, Simon Wahorn or Mad Milian?
At the moment there is nothing really concrete as far as solo plans go... Actually, I’m the one in the band who writes the most. Simi (Simon Warhorn) and Mad (Milian) are really slow, but then they are both absolute perfectionists!
I just started a new band together with my old friend and former RotFront colleague Daniel Kahn, and Marina Frenk, a cool singer (Marina & Kapelsky, The Real Baba Dunyah). It’s called The Essad Bey City Rollers. In Studio Я of the Gorki Theater, we are doing something like a musical about the life of Essad Bey, a German writer of Jewish origin, who came from Baku to Berlin 90 years ago, converted here to Islam, and became a best-selling author. We have written a lot for that and would soon like to go to the studio to record the whole thing.
Like I said, it will be a while still before my colleagues have finished their own projects. But then you can be prepared for a couple of very exciting stories
OK. Yuriy, I thank you for the interview and see you soon in the Emigrantski Republik!
The interview was conducted by Robert Lippuner


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