XOVA
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XOVA

Birmingham, England, United Kingdom

Birmingham, England, United Kingdom
Pop Reggae

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When the first thrilling wave of racially diverse roots-reggae and ska bands burst out of the Midlands in the late 1970s and revolutionised Britain’s musical and cultural landscape, the country was facing economic depression, massive social unrest, a lack of faith in the political system and, come 1982, an overseas crisis and a pointless war in The Falklands.

It seems that little has changed in the interim.

The Midlands – especially in Birmingham and Coventry on the western side - has always had a tradition of distinctly British black music, from Steel Pulse and Beshara in the 1970s, UB40, Dexy’s Midnight Runners and the 2 Tone label sound of The Specials, The Selecter and The Beat in the 1980s (not forgetting Bhangra), and an explosion of electro dub, Big Beat, UK garage/house, with worldwide phenomena like Malkit Singh,and Jay Z collaborator Punjabi MC. Add to that the equally legendary rock tradition, from The Spencer Davis Group and Led Zeppelin to Black Sabbath and Judas Priest, and it’s a region soaked in iconic and influential music.

Now here’s another sterling example. From Birmingham, numbering seven in their ranks, X.O.V.A. are multi-racial, multi-generational masters of a vibrant and muscular roots sound that harks back to the sound and vision of the past, fired up by social and political unrest issues as well as affairs of the heart. But the septet are also the sound of 2012, fusing their reggae base with the breadth of the modern world - ska, rock, dubstep, blues, Motown and folk, infused with protest and pain, but also hope.

Driving the band on is a very real tragedy that inspired “Knife Crime City”, the first single from the album: the shooting and killing of drummer Skin’s teenage son, a victim of Birmingham’s gun culture and gang wars. Not for nothing is their new album called Synchronise Your Leaders – the leaders of gang factions and countries alike. “Until everyone is on the same wavelength, peace has got no chance,” says singer/ guitarist and spokesman Wayne Lawrence.

The album title comes from the track “New Revolution”, while the band’s name – while pronounced as four distinct letters - stands simply and boldly for ‘crossover’. “We crossover to different genres, which means we can go anywhere with the music,” Lawrence explains. “But we’re predominantly a reggae band. It’s the music you always hear around Birmingham; in the park playing football, in every social club and snooker hall disco. There are many reggae tributes around but not many original reggae bands like us.“

Perhaps X.O.V.A. have the advantage of a wealth of experience on Britain’s reggae scene. Bassist Boot, drummer Skins and saxophonist James Renford were originally part of reggae star Pato Banton’s band Reggae Revolution, and have backed the likes of Apache Indian, Maxi Priest and Jimmy Cliff. Keyboardist Mikey Fingers is an associate of The Beat’s legendary frontman Rankin Roger. Lawrence, Stuart Haugh (trombone) and Andy Harris (trumpet) are X.O.V.A.’s younger members. “It’s funny,” Wayne grins, “because we always thought our age difference would be a problem. But it’s actually been a positive. You really couldn’t put us together - if we stand next to each other, it’s like a queue in a job centre! But it just works.”

Haugh is originally from Newcastle and Harris from Leicester but everyone now resides in Handsworth – aka Birmingham reggae central. Yet Lawrence admits that he was more raised on rock’n’roll; Elvis, The Beatles, Pink Floyd. While the rest of X.O.V.A. had initially worked with another singer and guitarist, Lawrence was fronting a rock band, Farside. But after the band split, a mutual connection told him X.O.V.A. wanted a new singer. “I was thrown in the deep end,” Wayne recalls. “But that’s the beauty of this band. Reggae was in my blood, but I could bring my rock influence with me.” In time, he also took over on guitar, though the decision nearly finished the band;