Oi Va Voi / Laughter Through Tears

beautiful butterfly; tricky positioning of the type right on the CD case means that you don't see the mundane band name/title Oi Va Voi
Laughter Through Tears
Outcaste, CASTE29 CD, 2003

Outcaste Records
Kensall House
553-579 Harrow Rd.
London, W10 4RH, UK
Tel: +44 (0)20 8964 6720
Fax: +44 (0)20 8964 6087
Web: www.outcaste.com
E-mail: info@outcaste.com

And now for something rather different on these pages. Oi Va Voi makes music that may owe as much, or more, to current electronica and trance dance beats as to traditional Jewish music. The result is a refreshing, danceable - how could the hip hop wedding of klezmer and electronica be anything else?

If anything else, the album is a statement of fragmented identities. The album opens with "Refugee". The song laces an underlying dance beat and ambivalent lyrics (a personal odyssey? a national one?) to immediately pull the listener in. "Yesterday's Mistakes," playing back and forth between English lyrics and Hebrew chant, followed by "Od Yeshoma", setting the traditional text to a new dance beat reminiscent of recent work by Ladino singer Sarah Aroeste continue to cultural exploration and fusion. Later on the album the band will sing in Yiddish, Hungarian?, Hebrew, Ladino, and more.

Like the Klezmatics, who have fused Jewish music with a variety of current American musical idioms, or even moreso, Toronto's Flying Bulgars with their fusion of world dance music and Yiddish, Oi Va Voi is not about reproducing traditional music in a modern form. Rather, what I hear is a rich variety of world music underlying traditional and new words, in a form that seems to fit now. Truly, this is this year's best manifestation of the story I used to tell to justify "modernist" impulses in the klezmer revival bands: that one can imagine God sitting on her throne in heaven listening to such music and sighing, "at last, I can listen to it live". In this particular instance, one more readily imagines God on the dance floor and the heavens shaking with new/old rhythms.

Part of what makes this album special is that there are new songs - new words. It isn't just new settings of old songs, or even new words in languages inaccessible to most Jews today. Rather, most of the songs are in English. That also makes the album more accessible to a wider audience (witness this album's presence on the New York Times "Top 10 of 2003" list), which is also a good thing. At the same time, this is an album that draws on a much wider variety of Jewish sources than is common, which is also welcome. The words also provide for some interesting collaborations - in many cases, the song's writer or co-writer is the guest singer, as with Sevara Narakhan on "7 Brothers" or "Gypsy", by Earl Zinger. Ultimately, as the band sings on "Hora," prior to the closing thoughts by Majer Bogdanski that give the album its name:

It's all about identity
A retrospective odyssey
But where I live and who I meet
Are stronger in defining me

When I am busy over-intellectualizing about "New Jewish Music," it is easy to point to amazing songwriters such as Josh Waletzky, Bayle Schaechter-Gottesman (Yiddish), Michael Alpert (most often Yiddish) or Sasha Argov and a generation of Israeli songwriters. But this album represents a rare instance of new Jewish music in English. For those of us who live in English-speaking countries, many of whom have lost touch with ancestral tongues, that is a good thing. For all of us, the danceable, wonderful rhythms and music that make up the core of this album are extraordinary. Try it. The past is still with us, but the present is at hand.

Reviewed by Ari Davidow 2 Feb 04

Personnel this recording:
Nik Ammar: guitars
Josh Breslaw: drums, percussion
Leo Bryant: bass
Steve Levi: clarinet, vocals
Lemez Lovas: trumpet, vocals, piano, keys
Sophie Solomon: violin, viola, pinao, accordion, melodica

Tigran Aleksanyan: duduk
Laura Anstee: cello (track 4)
Gergely Barcza: saxophone (track 8)
Majer Bogdanski: vocals (track 10)
Lenny Breslaw: additional vocals (track 9)
Valerie Etienne: backing vocals (track 8)
Chris Franck: kwakeb
Ben Hassan: lead vocals, darbukka (track 7)
Andy Kershaw: tuba (track 8)
David Lasserson: viola (track 4)
Judit Németh: vocals (track 4)
Toby Nowell: 2nd trumpet (track 8)
Sevara Nazarkhan: vocals (track 6)
KT Tunstall: vocals (tracks 1, 2, 5)
Earl Zinger: vocals (track 8)


  1. Refugee (music: Lovas, Oi Va Voi; words: Lovas, Tunstall) 3:37
  2. Yesterday's Mistakes (music: Oi Va Voi; words: Lovas, Tunstall)
  3. Od Yeshoma (music: Lev, Oi Va Voi; words: trad., Levi) 4:54
  4. A Csitári Hegyek Alatt (music: Oi Va Voi, trad; words: trad.)
  5. Ladino Song (music: Ammar, Lovas, Oi Va Voi; words: trad., Lovas, Tunstall)
  6. 7 Brothers (music: Ammar, Oi Va Voi; words: Sevara Nazarkhan) 4:33
  7. D'ror Yikra (music: Oi Va Voi, trad.; words: trad.) 5:56
  8. Gypsy (music: Lovas, Oi Va Voi; words: Earl Zinger) 4:46
  9. Hora (music: Lovas, Kop, Solomon; words: Lovas, Solomon) 3:57
  10. Pagamenska (music: Solomon, Levi, Oi Va Voi; words: Majer Bogdanski) 4:03

Hidden Track: 7 Brothers (Hefner Remix) 4:58

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