Thursday 8 November 2012

Libertad - an evening with Yasmin Levy

Since releasing her first album - Romance and Yasmin - back in 2004, Yasmin Levy has gone from being a "world music" performer, known mainly to aficionados of Judeo-Spanish music, to being an immensely popular vocalist known all over the world. She has remained true to her Judeo-Spanish, Ladino heritage but branched out into recording modern songs in Spanish and occasionally in Hebrew.

Her more recent albums have included duets with other stars of the world music scene including Egyptian born Natasha Atlas on the Mano Suave album (which may just have been the best so far) and Spaniard Concha Buika on the latest album. Tonight, her concert at London's Barbican featured another new development. In addition to her usual (and excellent) group of musicians including bass player, guitar player, percussion, piano and flute/ duduk, there was another new development - four female violinists who played on a range of songs from the new album as well as a couple of old favourites.

Ms. Levy, wearing a striking red, "Spanish style" dress, took the stage to rapturous applause and went straight into a selection of songs from new album Libertad including the Ladino traditional songs Skadlerikas de Oro and Aman Doktor, Turkish classic Firuze and Persian classic Soghati. I especially liked the string drenched passages of Firuze  that transported me to Istanbul and the arrival of the Sephardi Jews following the Spanish expulsion of 1492. Fantastic. Old favourites included Una Noche Mas and the now obligatory singalong Adio Kerida. Yasmin is a great story teller and although there was a little less of this than usual tonight, she told the audience that Aman Doktor was a song that her grandmother had sang when feeling sad and that she had written the duet from the album as a tribute to her now dead aunt whose husband had told her not to live alone following his death. 

Jerusalem born Yasmin is from a musical family. Her father Yitzhak, born in Istanbul but a long time resident of Jerusalem was also a singer and musician and collected many of the traditional Ladino songs that Yasmin performs, committing them to paper and preserving them for future generations. You can read a little more about Yitzhak Levy and the Ladino musical tradition here. Yasmin herself says she was inspired by Billie Holiday, Edith Piaf, Greek and Spanish music. She recently took art in an excellent documentary film - My Sweet Canary - about the life of the great Greek-Jewish, Istanbul born singing star Rosa Eskenazi. 

As well as being a stunning vocalist, Ms Levy is also a bit of a comedian. The comedy showed itself in her remarks about most of her songs being about dead people or those about to commit suicide. She joked that Adio Kerida is her most joyful song. The song tells the story of a woman leaving her lover. Quite a jolly number then! Despite the humour and despite being the major success that she now undoubtedly is, she remains humble and thanked the audience throughout for supporting her and for continuing to appreciate her music - and it felt genuine. Her husband plays in the band - he was one of her many thank-yous at the end of the concert, not just for his playing, but for "making my dreams come true". A nice touch. 

She closed with the title track from Libertad, introducing it with a short speech about how lucky she felt to be free to make choices and decisions for herself, when many women around the world are not in that position.  The aforesaid duet Olvidate de Mi - sang solo tonight, was the well received encore and then it was over. Yasmin Levy has come a long way since I first saw her perform at Pizza Express in Dean Street, Soho. She fills large concert halls, has five albums under her belt and a much deserved world wide profile. She has a special affection for London and mentioned early concerts in Camden this evening. I hope we can see her again soon.

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