It seems like every kind of traditional and ethnic music is ripe to be mixed with modern electronica to form some new genre-warping musical experiment. Oi Va Voi hopes that it can repeat Tabla Beat Science's success with Indian classical music and the Gotan Project's work with tango; the group wants to take klezmer, a traditionally Jewish form of folk music from Eastern Europe, and make it accessible to a new generation.
The British group recently released Laughter Through Tears, its debut album. It is often haunting, though upbeat and danceable at times, full of the instruments -- clarinet, violin, accordion -- that klezmer is known for. But there also are Spanish-sounding classical guitar, steady funk bass grooves, and inventive percussive arrangements. The album's opening track, "Refugee," is based on a traditional Armenian folk melody and features duduk player Tigran Aleksanyan; it begins as a ballad with swelling, poignant lyrics by silky-voiced guest vocalist KT Tunstall.
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"Yesterday's Mistakes" sounds like a well-produced pop track but veers East with a Hebrew chorus. Surprisingly, the intricate beats fit perfectly with the bowed violin and the deep, melodic chants. "7 Brothers" and "D'or Yikra" both supply doses of bar mitzvah breaks and other-worldly chanting. At times, the album veers into a bubbling stew of post rock-esque ambience much like the music of Godspeed You Black Emperor! but never for long, as Oi Va Voi evokes emotion through powerful melodies and mysterious lyrics rather than emotionally swirling compositions. Laughter Through Tears is worth checking out for its novelty and worth listening to a second time for its beauty.