Gogol Bordello & Richard Burton: painting pictures with the letter R

Eugene Hutz of Gogol Bordello is a master of the English language. Like Cab Calloway, Eugene bends and stretches words to suit his purpose. Sounding ‘foreign’ in English suits Eugene. It strengthens his ‘exotic-but-fluent-English-speaking-safe-East-European-gypsy’ persona.

Here he is relishing the of purple. What effect is he trying to create? Remember: nobody would guess purple as the final word in the line Start Wearing Purple. He wants to be sure his listeners catch the unusual word first time:

Emphasizing your R in English is unusual. It attracts your audience’s attention. Eugene hooks his listeners with the bait of an ‘exotic’ sounding R. First he forms a standard English vowel sound in purple. When he follows the ordinary vowel sound with an unusual R, his audience pays extra attention.  As he knows they will. His strong is decorative embroidery. It’s a conscious choice.

Just like Laura Marling, Eugene Hutz interprets English letters to suit his songwriting. It works for her and it works for him.

It worked for Richard Burton too. He’s emphasizing his consonants, especially his Rs, to paint a vivid portrait of the poetic preacher Eli Jenkins in this clip from Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood:

Each letter in English is a pigment in your sound palette. Use them wisely to paint evocative pictures in your listeners’ minds.

© Sing Better English, 2014


4 thoughts on “Gogol Bordello & Richard Burton: painting pictures with the letter R”

    1. I think you’re right – though I doubt if he plans it all out before he sings. I don’t think you could – it would tie you up in knots! But I do think he knows, experienced showman that he is, that relishing the rolled r of purple will inject an extra layer of life into the word. It’s one of the things that makes the song so memorable, isn’t it? If you sang a cover version and pronounced ‘purple’ in an ordinary English/American way, without the rolled r, it would be an insipid shadow of its Gogol Bordello self.

      By the way, talking about a singer putting character in his voice, have you ever seen the Wes Anderson film Darjeeling Limited? Do you remember this song https://singbetterenglish.wordpress.com/2014/11/02/where-do-you-go-to/

      Have you ever seen Gogol Bordello in concert?


  1. For someone who has spoken English for many years, his accent has definitely become part of his persona. I loved him in the movie “Everything is Illuminated,” where he maximizes his foreignness. And yes, I have seen Gogol live, just last summer. Thankfully I had a wonderful place near the stage and above the crowd, or I would have been crushed by the dancing/moshing. Great show! Never seen Darjeeling Limited.


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