Skip To Content

Oi Va Voi’s Brave New Klezmer

The experimental London ensemble Oi Va Voi opens its self-titled third album with a brave new look into the future of klezmer. On lead single “Yuri,” a distorted, distant voice calls out, “I am a rocket, the power of the system/it’s bullet-proof technology/Oh, we’re going to a new world/Going to a better place.” Clarinet and strings evoke an Eastern European sound, as a techno beat carries the composition. The track ends with a sample of Russian radio, announcing the achievements of “pilot Major Yuri Alexeyevich Gagarin,” and it becomes quite clear that Oi Va Voi has likewise made it into outer space.

Along with a slew of other hip indie bands (including Gogol Bordello, Beirut and DeVotchKa to name a few), Oi Va Voi has built a career out of world music mix-and-matching. Each of the band’s songs nosedives into various musical traditions, and nothing is too obscure to escape its lustful fingers. At the source of all these bands, however, is a strong commitment to Eastern European folk music — in Oi Va Voi’s case, klezmer. On its latest album, that commitment makes odd appearances — on the piano-driven “Further Deeper,” sung by chanteuse Alice McLaughlin, or the pop-rock “Black Sheep.” On both tracks, klezmer creeps into the inflections of the singer, dangling in the background.

Nola Kinna.jpg

Oi Va Voi’s eclectic mashup of klezmer, electronica and indie rock may seem unprecedented, but in fact klezmer has always been a multifaceted genre, drawing on and influenced by various traditions. While klezmer was informed by Jewish liturgical melodies, traveling musicians also formed close bonds with Gypsy performers. They swapped lyrical stylings and musical content, making klezmer a fertile ground for eclecticism. Oi Va Voi’s own concoction is firmly in this tradition. Every sly klezmer beat Oi Va Voi slips into one of its songs is not only a complement to its cosmopolitan music, but also an homage to a storied and promiscuous musical tradition.

“I’m sending out this tune to another place and time,” McLaughlin sings on “Black Sheep,” her voice trembling in tempo with a vibrating gypsy beat. Looking forward, even as it looks back, Oi Va Voi may have made the first great klezmer album that is truly of the 21st century.

For more from Oi Va Voi, visit the band’s MySpace page.

Mordechai Shinefield has written about music for Rolling Stone, The Village Voice and the New York Press.

For more Melody Macher columns, click here.

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.