Oi Va Voi
Label: Outcaste / V2
Publisher: Outcaste / EMI
- Mike Spencer / Bacon & Quarmby - production
- Moshikop / Andy Coules - sound/mixing
- Nik Ammar - guitar
- Josh Breslaw - drums
- Steve Levi - clarinet
- Leo Bryant - bass
- Sophie Solomon / Anna Phoebe - violin
- KT Tunstall / Alice McLaughlin / Bridgette Amofah - vocals
Receiving an Edison Award onstage, Paradiso, Amsterdam, 2004
I founded, wrote for and led a band for 7 years. On stage, I sang and played trumpet. With the band I made three records: people seemed to like us, and we played some decent shows. We were signed to Outcaste/EMI, and then Virgin/V2. I was lucky enough to work at length with some outrageously talented people, like KT Tunstall, Mike Spencer, Paul Epworth, Maurice El Medioni.
It was a longstanding labour of love, my formative musical experience: undertaken at a time when I was looking deeply into my roots and identity, and found a community of musicians and voyagers to share it with.
Groningen, 2003. I hadn't realised the show would be televised, and so wrote the lyrics to a brand new song on my hand. Whoops
I started the band at University, having fallen in love with a Hungarian folk dancer. Having grown up on a diet of hip-hop, soul and jazz, hearing folk music for the first time was a revelation. My girlfriend took me to a táncház, a traditional Hungarian folk ceilidh. The musicians were on stage playing as we arrived - a violin, two violas and a three-stringed double bass. As we stood in line to check in our coats, I started to nod my head unconsciously. I looked up and saw that everyone in the queue was doing the same. It was just like waiting in line in a club - the music filters through the door past the bouncer, and everyone on the pavement is bobbing in anticipation.
Have trumpet, will travel. Rome, 2004
A light bulb went off. This was pure dance music, just like Twice As Nice and Subterranea, the clubs I went to in London. Inside, it looked like a barndance, but the music was even more like the clubs I knew. Instead of drums and bass, there was a double bass and two violas, but the way they played - in hypnotic, repeated phrases with the violin singing a melody on top - allowed the dancers to almost ignore the music, and just do their thing.
I came out of that experience buzzing, and grabbed every recording of Hungarian folk music I could.
One thing led to another, and back at University, I formed a band with some friends. The repertoire was mostly Gypsy and Hungarian stuff I had picked up on my travels. We were enthusiastic… and not that good.
Being a mostly self-taught musician, with the exception of a wonderful year in Moscow at the Gnessinka Conservatory with the late trumpet and breathing guru, Evgeniy Alexandrovich Savin, I wanted to get some theory behind me for songwriting, so I took a one-year conversion course at the superb adult education centre in South London, Morley College.
The hand ball of fire: our ritual just before going on stage
There I met drummer Josh Breslaw, a professional musician, and when he agreed to join the band, we stepped things up a gear. We got our first international shows, with my old studio partner, now Grammy-winning producer Paul Epworth on sound and got our first press write-up after a main stage show at the Dranouter Festival, Belgium. From that point on we knew we had a shot, and had to dedicated ourselves to the band full-time.
Giving it some in Italy on our first European tour
I wrote my first song for the band and we self-funded our first album at the legendary Livingston Studio in London’s Wood Green. From there, things spiralled: we started to play international festivals regularly, and a showcase at WOMEX 2002 got us an introduction to Martin Morales, then A&R for Outcaste/EMI Records, a record deal, and an international touring agent - the fantastic Jon Slade at Elastic, home to Gilles Peterson amongst other heroes.
An entire stand of bootlegged tour merchandise outside the venue in Milan. We felt we had really arrived.
Signing to Outcaste Records was a dream come true for me. Since my DJ-ing days, they had been my favourite label - home to Nitin Sawhney, a British-Indian artist who had spent the last five years redefining what British music sounded like.
It was the time of the Iraq war. The leader of the Conservatives was trying to prove his Britishness by clamping down on immigration. I wrote Refugee as a protest: it was a sleeper hit that put the band on the map.
Backstage with KT at our debut album launch, Bedford Arms, London, 2003
One year later, after a show at the Paradiso in Amsterdam, a primary school teacher approched me and told me she had used the song as the focus of an annual class project about immigration and identity. I was so proud: to see that music could have an effect far beyond a song itself was a defining moment in my musical development.
We spent the next 4 years on the road almost constantly, playing Glastonbury several times, in the USA and across Europe, making videos and helping to launch the career of one of the UK’s biggest singers of the decade.
TV interview at Caracol, Barcelona, 2004
We changed labels, signed to V2, and worked with some wonderful international artists and producers. Working consistently at this level taught me some invaluable tricks of the music trade, in all its good and bad aspects.
In 2007, I was newly-married and fell out of love with the touring life, seeking a more meaningful way to spend the 23 hours a day that you are not on stage. We’d played 250+ shows around the world, and I was ready for a change. I handed over my baby to the other band members, now a business that could support eight people full-time, and sought out new challenges.
International Album of the Year
Critics' Top Ten Album of the Year
Boundary Crossing Award Nomination
Listeners Award Nomination
One of this year's revelations
Classy vocalists and lyrics that search for and celebrate identity - a diaspora-wide delight.
The two openers Refugee and Yesterday's Mistakes have hit written all over them and the warm, breathy tone of KT Tunstall's vocals takes you back to the most magical, wistful summer's day you ever spent in the metropolis.
"Oi Va Voi were something else entirely: a wild, enthralling mix... their deluge of ideas leaves you breathless with wonder"
“A true 21st century fusion of styles, merging great songwriting, dope beats, world music and a surprisingly urban funk factor into an ever-morphing and ever-compelling tapestry. A genuinely fresh and exciting sound”
“One of the most exciting bands in Britain today”
“One of the world music albums of the year”
Oi Va Voi have come up with a debut album of uncommon grace, diversity and beauty. Any indie band who received two nominations in the latest BBC Radio 3 Awards for World Music without any official CD release to their name had to have something going for them. You can have fun closing your eyes and free-associating with this disc. Here's what I got: Manu Chao; David Byrne; 'Twin Peaks'; late-period Floyd; Bjork; the Klezmer Kings; Nick Drake; Paco Pena; the Penguin Orchestra; the Truby Trio; my best friend's nephew's Bar Mitzvah party last year.
Like the occasional bet? Then place your money on Oi Va Voi, odds-on favourites to break through in a major way next year.
Interviews that I can remember
- South Bank Show
- BBC Radio 3
- BBC London
- BBC World Service
- Time Out
- Femme Actuelle
- Radio Nova
- Radio J
- Kink FM
- De Morgen
- De Standaard
- TIJD Cultuur
- RifRaf FR
- La Nouvelle Gazette
- Radio RTBF
- Il Diario
- Radio Popolare
- Mucchio Selvaggio
- Vanity Fair
- Caffe Latte
- Donna di Republicca
- Radio DeeJay & Musica did Republicca