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World On Your Street: The Global Music Challenge
Sophie Solomon
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Describe the atmosphere and live music at a local pub, restaurant, festival, church or temple, club night.... inspire other people to check it out!

Musician: Sophie Solomon

Location: London

Instruments: violin

Music: Klezmer

HOW I CAME TO THIS MUSIC          WHERE I PLAY          A FAVOURITE SONG Click here for Hande Domac's storyClick here for Mosi Conde's storyClick here for Rachel McLeod's story

Listen  Listen (3'25) to Solomon & Socalled perform 'Electro Taxim' from 'Hiphopkhasene' (Piranha CD-PIRI1789)

Oi Va Voi's debut album 'Laughter Through Tears' (Outcaste Records, CASTE29CD) is released on September 29th, 2003

'...listening to accordions in darkened underpasses and indulging our Eastern European fantasies about chess players, vodka and haggard intellectuals in feverish discussion.'

How I came to this music:

I was born of a Christian mother of far, far distant French origin and a Jewish father of Lithuanian Polish origin. We lived in the countryside to the south of Manchester.

How musical was my family? Well, my father started to learn to play the violin with me, because he was that kind of supportive parent; my grandad played the trumpet in the British Army – he was in the marching band at Al Alamein in World War 2. But most interestingly of all, in the 1950’s when most Jewish kids would have been into Habonim (a Jewish Youth group)and Israeli culture, my uncle Harold was very into Yiddish song and trying to revive it. He cut a 78rpm recording of himself singing Yiddish and Hebrew songs. I didn‘t hear that till later, but my dad used to leap around the kitchen when I was little, clapping and getting everybody really excited singing what we called Yubba–boy songs.

Sophie Solomon Really they were nigonim – wordless Yiddish songs. He probably learned them from my uncle, Harold, his brother, who sadly committed suicide when he was 24, because my Grandad refused to accept his non-Jewish girlfriend into the family. He was a really bright guy who went up to Oxford to read philosophy at 16 and was really good friends with Bertrand Russell. He immersed himself in Yiddish culture and wrote a contemporary “Third Seder “ (Passover supper) piece with Yiddish music. But his father told him that he would say Kaddish (the mourner’s prayer) for him if he continued his relationship with his non-Jewish girlfriend. So in 1954, instead of coming home for the Passover supper, he turned on the gas in his Oxford flat and that was that. He left behind the old 78 of him singing the songs.

Of course he died 24 years before I was born in 1978 and I didn’t know much about him until I got into klezmer. Then my dad told me more about him and found his old record. It was an amazing discovery for me and I got more and more intrigued. And recently I was commissioned by the Jewish Institute, funded by the National Lottery’s Milennium Award scheme, to write a piece based round my Uncle Harold’s story for string trio, accordion, clarinet and the samples of my uncle’s vocals. I called it Feter Chaim Moyshe (feter = uncle), his Hebrew name. Its first performance was at Trinity College in London in March 2003.

My own musical story began with the violin, studying by the Suzuki method at the age of 2 and then piano as well at 6. I won a musical scholarship to Cheltenham Ladies college when I was 10, got my grade 8’s (highest possible musical grades) at 12, played in the national Children’s Orchestra and so on. But when I went to Oxford at 17, it was to read History and Russian . I was kind of sick of being a music scholar and always doing music and nothing much else, so I didn’t do much violin at Oxford but instead I DJ’d.

That had really started when I went to Russia at 14 with my brother and his Russian wife who was a committed raver! I didn’t see Moscow by day, it was a purely nocturnal experience. I met all these Russian Dj’s and really got obsessed by it, got decks for Christmas when I was 17 and became part of the London hard house, techno crowd – the Liberator DJ’s and Club Alien. I’d be playing dark ragga-jungle sets in the back room there. When I lived in Moscow, as part of the third year of my degree course, I had a residency at a club called Propaganda, as did Lemez Lovas, a fellow student then and now the trumpet player with Oi Va Voi.

Sophie Solomon with Oi Va Voi We got totally into listening to accordions in darkened underpasses and indulging our Eastern European fantasies about chess players, vodka and haggard intellectuals in feverish discussion, so that when we returned to Oxford it seemed very banal and quite sterile in comparison. So we thought ‘Let’s make some music!’ So the idea of Oi Va Voi came about. At that time Lemez was listening to a lot of Klezmatics’ stuff and I remembered my father having sung all those songs to me and we slowly got into playing Klezmer music.

I was certainly also very influenced by my visits to Klez Kamp ( in the US and meeting with people like Alicia Svigals and Frank London and really learning very intensively with them. The old playing and singing traditions are not written down, so occasions where lots of Klezmer players get together are really important for picking up tunes, styles and ornamentation. I also picked up tunes from slowed down ‘78’s – learning them directly off old recordings. OI Va voi is about mixing Klezmer with drum and bass and contemporary dance beats, but I didn’t want to be in a position of saying ‘Yeah…let’s just mix a klezmer tune down with some funky beats’. I wanted to be able to say that I was playing Klezmer really authentically and honestly. I wanted to have researched it and practiced it rigorously.

On the other hand, armed with the experience and confidence about playing electric music derived from my DJ days, I also have a five string electric violin and effects rack on stage with me!

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