She sings in Arabic, Spanish and, of course, Ladino; the language which, musically, defines her difference. Indeed, Ladino has been an inescapable legacy for her; her father, Itzhak, during his lifetime, went from door-to-door, recording and transcribing these precious ancient songs, in the hybrid Spanish-Hebrew dialects that comprise Ladino.
Whether turning her talent to a Bedouin traditional melody, Greek Gypsy song, her own compositions, Flamenco, or her born-and-bred Sephardic heritage, Levy, who’s only been singing a few years, betrays no inexperience or lack; au contraire, hers is as assertive and assured a delivery as is known in the performing arts at large.
Amidst this, she mingles almost self-effacing modesty and an almost brittle, certainly brutal Israeli humour: ‘I hope my mother-in-law dies soon, so I can have my husband all to myself’’.
Her husband, as it happens, is one of the fine musicians that back her (percussionist), whom she’s gathered from all over the world.
Ms Levy comes to us via Womadelaide, 2007, at which apparently, she turned in a ‘stunning’ performance. Such plaudits have been by no means restricted to Antipodean opinion: The Guardian believes she is, surely, the next world music superstar. I’d only beg to differ inasmuch as, I believe, she’s already well-and-truly, as well as, from the outside, looking in, at least, quite effortlessly, arrived at that goalpost.
The Sydney Opera House Concert Hall capped off, in fine style, and extensive Australian tour, her first, which has included the Adelaide Festival Centre, Perth International Arts Festival, The National Theatre (St. Kilda), Brisvegas Powerhouse and, of all places, Star Court Theatre (Lismore).
It might’ve taken me until 2008 to discover it, but Ladino dates back to the expulsion, from Spain, in 1492, of the Jews, who, in diaspora, were able to retain songs which affirmed their religious, cultural and geographic origins.
When judiciously melded with the tragedy, melancholy, fire & vitality of Andalucian music, this ancient form takes on, arguably, even more (if possible) depth, richness and interest.
She’s not afraid, either (not least through the medium of her superlative Iranian clarinettist), to imbue it further, with a diversity of Middle Eastern flavours, which reach well beyond her immediate, personal heritage.
The Levy instrument is warm, deep and technically expert. In a very real sense, she is a soul singer: there is a kind of visceral spirituality here; a ‘heart’ voice, not a ‘head’ voice, if you will, capable of inducing shivers, tingles and other discomfiting, if strangely delightful, sensations.
It’s worth noting, too, Levy is a Ladino lover on a peace mission: in a few, simple, ‘unminced’ (unmisteakable?) words, she instils real hope of harmony between Israel & Palestine. She certainly believes in the need and capacity to share. And why shouldn’t it be possible? Even history instructs us, to this very end: in the centuries (yes, centuries!) during which Spain fell under Moorish rule, Jews lived peaceably among both Arabs & Christians. If then, why not now?
If you’re at home in this musical and political territory, you’ll be at home with Yasmin Levy. If you’ve any affinity with or affection for, say, Jewish liturgical, Klezmer, Flamenco, Greek folk, Balkan, Turkish, Arabic, or North African music and sentiment, you’ll be right at home, with Yasmin Levy. If you simply appreciate singing, as an art, you’ll be at home, with Yasmin Levy.
Above all, YL reminds us that ancient artefacts, whether musical or political, have a very real and relevant place to play, today. She isn’t, as purists probably fear, tampering, toying, or trifling, but teasing out the essence of Ladino and seeing where she can take it. And us. I’m sure there are many more than happy to go along, for that ride. It’s the ride of life. Mine. Yours. Everyone’s.
Jaslyn Hall and Sydney Opera House present
Venue: Concert Hall | Sydney Opera House
Date/Time: March 1 @ 8.30pm
Tickets: $69 - $55
Bookings: 02 9250 7777 or sydneyoperahouse.com