Friday, February 25, 2011

The melting pot of her ancestors

Israeli singer Yasmin Levy keeps Ladino tradition alive
With her haunting howls and Ladino-laced songs, Judaeo-Spanish singer Yasmin Levy brings new life to her ancestral songs.

“I grew up in Jerusalem,” she said by phone recently. “It’s a melting pot with people from all over the world listening to different music, smelling all kinds of smells, tasting foods; this mixture is who I am. I am an Israeli. I’m Turkish. I’m Spanish. I am a human being. All those traditions are inside of me.” Her new album Sentir showcases her love for large vocals, much like some of her favorite voices: Edith Piaf, Luciano Pavarotti and Tina Turner.

Sentir includes Una Pastora , an Unforgettable-style duet with her father, celebrated Israeli cantor and composer Isaac Levy, who died in the ’70s.

On March 3, Levy performs at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts. We caught up with her to talk about her unique heritage and the culture of Ladino music.

Explain Ladino music to me.
Ladino is the songs of the Jews who were expelled from Spain in 1492. The song is the only thing they took with them from Spain. Everything they had in life, they sang about. The language, the song, the memories were all passed orally from generation to generation. Mothers sang secular songs to their daughters at home and men sang them to their sons in synagogues. The traditional is a cappella. Those songs were never meant to be on stage. They are pure soul songs, very beautiful and very innocent. The way I do it is not the traditional way. I mix them with flamenco, Turkish, Cuban, and Arabic sounds to make it interesting.

Do you speak Ladino?
No one in my generation speaks Ladino. It’s an endangered language. Everyone who speaks it is 70 and 80 years old. In my opinion, two generations from now, it will die and disappear. The only thing to survive will be the songs, and that’s why it’s a mission to spread it as much as I can, and also a way to love my father since he passed when I was 1.

How do you write songs, or are they all traditional?
When I sing in Ladino, all the songs are traditional, and done with great respect and responsibility. Ladino is holy and I don’t want to touch it. It’s important for me to write and compose my own songs. I do it in Spanish so I can have total freedom, get wild and express myself without thinking about responsibility and tradition.

How was it to “sing with” your father on Una Pastora ?
It was very difficult because I adore him. I had to see myself as an equal singer and I could never see that. It took me many times until I told myself, “It’s okay, he’s dead. Don’t be afraid, you’re not comparing yourself to him, you’re not disrespecting him.” It was like he was with me in the studio. We used a 50-year-old recording.

What languages do you speak?
Hebrew, English, Spanish, a little bit of French, and I write and read Arabic.

What if you couldn’t sing?
Oh, my God (gasps). I would be sad. I would be the saddest person ever. I think I would help animals.

What is your message?
I give myself totally. I commit suicide on stage. No masks, no borders, it’s as if I’m almost naked. I put myself in the in the hands of people. I want people to open their hearts so they might discover a beautiful world.

BY: Stephanie Bolling
St. Pete Times

1 comment:

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