Oi Va Voi are:
Nik Ammar: guitars
Josh Breslaw: drums, percussion
Leo Bryant: bass
Steve Levi: clarinet, vocals
Lemez Lovas: trumpet, vocals, piano, keys
Sophie Solomon: violin, viola, piano, accordion, melodica
OI VA VOI's debut album "Laughter Through Tears" is the sound of six young Londoners searching for an identity in 21st Century Europe. Steeped in the rhythms of Eastern Europe, the Mediterranean, the Caribbean and beyond, "Laughter Through Tears" is the soundtrack to 1001 Urban Nights. Poignant universal stories, beautifully told though folk-tinged songs like 'Refugee' and 'Yesterday's Mistakes' sit alongside such tracks as '7 Brothers' with its deepest of grooves; drawing as much on modern dance music as their Jewish cultural heritage, theirs is a contemporary sound. No other group is out there mixing things up as boldly and as brilliantly as OI VA VOI.
OI VA VOI burst into life back in 2000, the six members of the group drawing on disparate musical experiences. Trumpeter Lemez Lovas started out DJing leftfield jazz, Latin and hip hop, drummer Josh Breslaw had hit the fatback beat in hip hop and rock outfits and Sophie Solomon played out as a drum n bass DJ as well as gaining praises from Nigel Kennedy among others for her talent as a violinist. The buzz surrounding the band grew as they won over crowds everywhere from Glastonbury to New York's Knitting Factory. OI VA VOI tunes appeared on the best-selling Buddha Bar compilations, there were remixes by garage DJ Kriminal Gangsta and innovative dance producer Hefner. Then last year the group received two nominations in the BBC Radio 3 World Music Awards, the only artists to be nominated for both the Boundary Crossing and Listeners' Award categories; and all this from a band that then had no official CD release to their name.
It's easy to fathom the appeal. OI VA VOI has both an exciting dance-floor friendly sound and an emotive singer-songwriter quality that's built around a unique instrumental line-up of trumpet, clarinet, violin, guitar, bass and drums and complemented by powerful lyrics. The club-friendly rhythms come courtesy of Leo Bryant's basslines and Josh Breslaw's drums rather than pre-programmed machinery. Although they started out by taking old klezmer tunes and giving them 21st Century beats, the group soon broadened out their sound, dipping into everything that they heard around them (one early suggested title for this album was Magpie Music). If Sophie Solomon's violin is casting a spell with a traditional tune from the old country, then you can bet that Leo Bryant will be laying down a skanking bassline. If Steve Levi's clarinet is blowing fiery klezmer then it will be complimented by some jangling guitar licks from Nik Ammar.
Clearly not everyone could get their head around this outward looking approach and there was pressure on the band to drop the urban grooves or the folklore, to make their music easier to pigeon-hole; but from the word go OI VA VOI resisted and stayed true to their quest. When you're trying to express who you are, the last thing you need is to listen to those who try to tell you who they want you to be.
Finally, late last year they signed to Outcaste, a label with a proven track record in nurturing uncompromising, talented British artists like Nitin Sawhney and Badmarsh & Shri. Here was a marriage made in musical paradise. Earlier this year the band went into the studio with producers Kevin Bacon and Jonathan Quarmby (whose previous credits include David Bowie and Finley Quaye) and programmer Tony Economides (Da Lata and Nitin Sawhney) and now emerges with "Laughter Through Tears", an album that will exceed everybody's expectations. Surely the first release to find room for jazzical rude boy Earl Zinger, venerable Yiddish singer Majer Bogdansky and Uzbek pop diva Sevara Nazarkhan as well as the emotive vocals of Scottish singer KT Tunstall. "Laughter Through Tears" has the contemporary edge, which has come to characterise Outcaste's output and is, at the same time, blessed with the unique OI VA VOI magic.
Long time fans of the band will recognise some of the tunes from their incendiary live shows (for which they've been compared to everyone from Massive Attack to the Pogues!). There's also new material, composed in the burst of creative energy, which followed their signing to Outcaste. The band felt that it was important to create something distinct from the full-on nature of their live performances. They wanted to take full advantage of the range of possibilities offered by a modern studio. The result is that rarity, an album that can be listened to and enjoyed repeatedly from start to finish. An album with stories and messages that touch and can get under your skin; "Laughter Through Tears" is the journey that they as individuals have had to pursue. The story of so many young people living in this vast urban landscape.
You underestimate the breadth and power of this band's sound at your peril. They are forging a new, true identity, which both draws on their roots and celebrates the cultural pluralism that surrounds us all. OI VA VOI's music speaks of the 'here and now' but knows of the 'way back when'. OI VA VOI has the intelligence to understand that identity springs from many places, from everything we've seen and heard and felt. Like the tastes of the best contemporary fusion cookery, the images of cutting edge art or the prose of postmodern urban writers such as Zadie Smith, OI VA VOI create something new through mixing and matching ingredients that they know, love and understand.