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Experimental Jewish Music - London, UK
The band's acclaimed 2003 debut album “Laughter Through Tears” and vibrant live shows and festival appearances made them everybody's tip for the top. Then, due to circumstances beyond their control, it all started to go wrong. A terminal dispute with their record company was followed by the loss of a band member and a serious illness within the band, resulting in initial attempts to record a follow-up album having to be put on hold. Twelve months on and Oi Va Voi have regrouped and regenerated on a new label with a new producer and the addition of exciting new recruits. Out of potential disaster, they have instead fashioned a second album that expands Oi Va Voi's core sound with a whole new range of subtle but vivid new hues and striking primary colours. Recorded in Israel and London, the song writing is more crafted, the playing more fluid and the diverse elements of their sound more fully integrated. If the last record left people wondering if Oi Va Voi were an electronic dance act, world music worthies or a rock'n'roll band, the new album renders such questions irrelevant by trampling the fences of genre and simplistic categorisation out of sight.
Oi Va Voi came together in the late 1990s when trumpeter Lemez Lovas, drummer Josh Breslaw, bassist Leo Bryant, clarinettist Steve Levi, guitarist Nik Ammar and violinist Sophie Solomon pooled their diverse musical backgrounds in left-field jazz, hip-hop, rock bands, drum n bass and Jewish klezmer. With the addition of KT Tunstall on guest vocals, their debut album fused modern dance music, singer-songwriter sensitivity and their Jewish cultural heritage with global rhythms drawn from Eastern Europe, the Mediterranean and beyond. Laughter Through Tears received rave reviews and won two nominations in the BBC Radio 2 awards for world music. Yet anybody who saw Oi Va Voi's spectacular live shows was left in little doubt that they were far more than a world music act with an enviable ability to rock a crowd and get a dance floor heaving.
Then in late 2004, KT Tunstall left the live set up to become a million-selling, multi-platinum solo artist. The rest of the band congratulated her on her success but the search for a replacement was arduous. Their claim to have "auditioned every female vocalist in London" is only a slight exaggeration. Several were tried live, but none was quite right. Next Sophie Solomon signed a solo deal that ultimately proved incompatible with continued membership of the band. Meanwhile, the band and its record company were at odds over their future direction and to cap it all, illness within the group further hampered their progress. When they attempted to begin recording their second album in 2005, sessions were soon abandoned. There was far too much uncertainty in the air for them to focus fully on the task in hand.
Then slowly the realisation dawned that out of the ashes of their trials and tribulations, new possibilities could arise: not a chance to make a fresh start exactly, but certainly the opportunity to explore new spaces and expand their horizons. First they found the right singer in Alice McLaughlin, whose stunning voice combines the English purity of early Marianne Faithfull with something of the otherworldliness of Bjork. Next, producer Mike Spencer came on board. Best-known for producing top ten hits for the likes of Jamiroquai and Kylie Minogue, his less celebrated recordings of traditional music in Sudan and Cambodia made him the perfect fit for Oi Va Voi's own unique eclecticism. More recently, Australian violinist Haylie Ecker from pop-classical string quartet Bond has been added to the extended Oi Va Voi live family.
With a new record deal in place, band and producer decamped to Tel Aviv. The change of scene proved to be a tonic and the second album began to fall into place. Work continued back in London and the result is an album that thrillingly realises all of the possibilities opened up on their debut album. Black Sheep, the first track recorded in Israel, represents a manifesto of all that is best about the band, the skittering beats perfectly counter-posed by thrilling Arabic strings played by members of the Nazareth Orchestra and a vocal by Alice that announces her as a memorable successor to KT Tunstall. Described by the band as "a kitsch space song”, Yuri, sounds like the French electronic duo Air kidnapped for the night by a bunch of crazed Russian gypsies in a Moscow vodka bar. Worry Lines and Dry Your Eyes illustrate how far Oi Va Voi have come as songwriters. The former features an aching vocal by lyricist Steve Levi, while the latter is as beautiful and dysfunctional a love song as you're likely to hear. Dissident is another tour de force with a stunning vocal by Hungarian folk singer Agi Szaloki offset by Levi's haunting cantor, while the instrumental Balkanic reminds us that Oi Va Voi were championing East European beats long before Gogol Bordello or Basement Jaxx. "Oi Va Voi", their third album was released on V2 records in mainland Europe in April 2007.
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