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Even though the music of England-based musical collective Oi Va Voi is drenched in their utterly contemporary take on the eastern European Jewish experience, the group had never attempted to record a song in Yiddish - until "S'brent."
The song, written by Polish poet Mordechai Gebertig in 1938, came in response to the 1936 pogrom of Jews in the shtetl of Przytyk, and sounded an alarm for the coming Holocaust.
"We tried to take an old story and pay respect to it in a more modern context," explained the band's co-founder and drummer Josh Breslau from his home in London. "We don't even understand Yiddish, that's why we got Agi to sing it," he added, referring to the guest vocals provided by Hungarian singer Agi Szaloki, who also sang the haunting "Dissident" on the group's second album.
"It's a little waltz but updated. It's a perfect example of what we do best, dust off a museum
piece. We certainly never intend to disrespect old traditions, just reframe them," said Breslau.
The song is the centerpiece of Oi Va Voi's new album titled Traveling the Face of the Globe
, which the band is supporting throughout its tour, including three shows next week in Tel Aviv.
Breslau recalled that the band was unsure about performing "S'brent" during a recent show in Germany, but voted to go through with it. "It had a profound effect on the audience, it was quite an experience," he said.
Since self-releasing their debut album Digital Folklore
in 2001, the band has been having that same effect on audiences elsewhere, with its potent mix of updated takes on traditional klezmer, gypsy and Balkan music. While some members - notably early vocalist KT Tunstall - have gone on to greater solo heights, the band's current configuration, including Ghana native Bridgette Amofah, a Shirley Bassey sound-alike, on vocals, along with horns and violin meshing with the rock steady guitar/bass/drums foundation, are displaying the band at its top strength, said Breslau. Their unifying goal? To dust off the music of previous generations for a new audience.
"It wasn't the kind of music our parents listened to, but it was what our grandparents might have listened to. Sometimes cultural things skip a generation."Catch Oi Va Voi live tonight at the Barby Club in Tel Aviv and tomorrow at the Berale at Kibbutz Lehavot Haviva (www.beraleberale.co.il).