OKA VANGA – Oka Vanga (Crazy Bird Records)

Oka VangaOka Vanga’s third (and self-titled) album is a “wild, rich & unique” joyous hybrid of Americana and wind-blown memories of British folk music. Angela Meyer and William Cox – the she and he of the band – blend Angela’s South African roots with Will’s British soul and the send their music into the web of one of those ancestry sites, only to find their music sings with melodic bliss and very universal blood.

Their last album, Pilgrim, was deemed, “Perfect” by the FATEA magazine people. Oddly enough (and for the uninitiated to the band’s sound), the first song, ‘Beneath The Apple Tree’, recalls the absolute joy of Eddi Reader (of Fairground  Attraction fame!) as she sang the wonderous song ‘Perfect’, except the rollercoaster melody is tweaked with even more roundabout curves, and Patsy Reid’s violin plays dramatic straight man to the obvious folky vim of the tune that, perhaps, gains an added insight, what with the “apple tree” motif’s happy glance at a Maypole dance of long ago, before (with symbolism weathered like a leather Bible cover) man fell and stopped singing those (Thank you, Shirley Collins!) Anthems Of Eden. Then, in keeping with that idea, ‘Bows Of Yew’ turns dark with the warning, “Ah the devil will find you”. Again, the tune blends cool British folk with Americana Appalachian travelling medicine show (even cooler!) stuff. Then, there’s more: ‘Whiskey For Sorrow’ adds a bluesy edge that opens a banjo-fueled throttle that speeds toward a downhome destination that still drinks proudly from that eternal old timey musical and forever Americana moonshine still.

By the way, that initial band description of “wild, rich & unique” was lifted from a description (courtesy of a travel web site!) of the South African Okavanga Delta, from which, I assume, the band takes its name.

That being said (and having watched television commercials for too many popular music awards shows as well as various–both masked and unmasked–singing contests!), it’s a safe certainty to say Oka Vanga is “an oasis in an otherwise dry environment”. Next, ‘Seek And Run’ echoes the dramatic late 60’s folk music, with an acoustic guitar burst and nice social commentary. And ‘Johanna’ oozes a melody that ‘mixes yellow with indigo, violet with blue” and then paints a portrait of a mother’s eternal love. It sings with warm joy, like the great Vin Garbutt’s song ‘Lynda’ from his Little Innocents album or (the Bryn Phillips composed) ‘Silver And Gold’ from the album Persona …Grata. This is staunch stuff.

As my friend, Kilda Defunt, always says, “Our universe is propelled by eternal optimism”.

Then, ‘Blue Sky In Our Veins’ is very Americana old timey acoustic country, with mandolin, violin, and yet another charming vocal that, in a very different (and much more “perfect”) musical universe would, indeed, win a television singing contest—with or without masks required.

Odd (again!) the much-maligned Canadian hard rocking band Bachman-Turner Overdrive (aka BTO) recorded a song called ‘Lowland Fling’, which, just for the record, has nothing to do with any “lowland” and never “flings” anything. But two instrumentals–the fiery mandolin fueled ‘Tenpenny Bit & The Crooked Crow’ and ‘Blackthorn Stick & Atholl Highlanders’–conjure a pretty great dance step, worthy of a rather rare reclaimed and remastered Hedgehog Pie album. That’s a nice complement. And, to risk yet another geographically landscaped metaphor, these instrumentals serve to create “a vast and varied ecosystem” in the folk grooves of this album.

The simple (and quite catchy) ‘Bluebird’ gets sort of folk jazzy—in a very irresistible way.

The final tune, the oft covered ‘The Cuckoo’, is (yet) another song that searches for some sort of universal craic, that just hums with Stonehenge aged (and very mysterious) vibrations. And Oka Vanga manage to pump new air into this old tire with William Cox’s wonderful mandolin and Angela’s very sincere 78 rpm deep earth delightfully muted corn-whiskey voice.

Oka Vanga’s third self-title record simply bounces with new folk verve because, as Angela sings, “We’ve got stars above our head and stars beneath our feet”. And the album dances with distant folk shadows that spin “unique pulsing wetlands” of aged tunes that flow like tributaries into and brand new melodic folk songs that are, to quote the FATEA magazine people and that Fairground Attraction tune, really quite “perfect”.

Bill Golembeski

Artists’ website: https://okavanga.com/

‘Beneath The Apple Tree’ – official video:

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