The Yiddish are coming!

UK band Oi Va Voi tweaks klezmer and Eastern European heritage into a multicultural package of modern dance music.

Oi Va Voi 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Oi Va Voi 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The music of the Old World has never sounded as current and alive as it does when Oi Va Voi takes it under its formidable wings. Mixing the “here and now” with the “way back when” with flair, attitude and fun, the British musical collective takes the Yiddish roots of klezmer and the Eastern European cultural heritage and wraps it in modern dance music. Instead of those styles canceling each other out, they bring out the best of both, forging a new musical style that has captured audiences around the world.
The band’s multicultural experience includes their unique Jewish groove; a soul singer from Ghana, Bridgette Amofah, who sings in Yiddish; violin, clarinet and trumpet players that rock like electric guitarists; and a rhythm section that can swing, whether it’s Hungarian fold music or electronic dance raveups.
It’s world music in the literal sense, which explains why the seven-piece band’s most recent 2009 album was called Traveling the Face of the Globe. It was almost two years ago that they launched a tour in support of the album with three shows at the Barby Club in Tel Aviv, and according to drummer and band leader Josh Breslau, they deliberately decided to end the tour here as well.
“We have an amazing connection with Israeli audiences. We chose Tel Aviv as the place to open our Traveling the Face of the Globe Tour almost two years ago, and we’re happy to close the circle by closing the tour on the very same stage in front of our Israeli fans,” said Breslau, referring to Oi Va Voi’s upcoming show on December 16 at the Barby.
When he spoke to The Jerusalem Post ahead of the January 2010 shows, Breslau said he saw the band’s mission as dusting 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,” he said.
Oi Va Voi’s music certainly hasn’t skipped this generation. Since selfreleasing 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.
Some members – notably early vocalist KT Tunstall – have gone on to greater solo heights. And just this week, founding member Sophie Solomon, who left the band in 2006, was appointed as director of the Jewish Music Institute in London.
Those defections threw some spokes in the band’s forward momentum, and for over a year after Solomon’s departure and other upheavals that left the band whittled down to four members (Breslau, clarinetist Stephen Levi, guitarist Nik Ammar and trumpeter Lemez Lavoc), they went on an open-ended hiatus.
But new stimuli via producer Mike Spencer (known for his work with Jamiroquai and Erasure), the recording of a 2007 album in Tel Aviv and the introduction of captivating vocalist Amofah reenergized the band. And like the timeless Timex watch, they’ve been ticking like a metronome ever since.
This month’s Tel Aviv show will be the last chance to see the band for a while, as they return to England to regroup from two years on the road and start thinking about recording their next album. So bone up on your favorite Yiddish phrases and polish off your dancing shoes for a night to remember with everyone’s favorite Gypsy electronica band.