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Home Arts and Culture  Yasmin Levy: Infusing old songs with new flavors
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Wednesday, February 23,2011

Yasmin Levy: Infusing old songs with new flavors

The singer brings together musicians from around the world in her band

by Rich Tupica
While growing up in Jerusalem, musician Yasmin Levy had the opportunity to absorb the sounds of many cultures. Courtesy Photo


Having spent most of her life in Jerusalem, singer Yasmin Levy was introduced to a hotbed of cultures, many of which find ways into her style of international music.


Born in 1975 to a musical family, Levy was playing piano by age 6. Since then, she’s absorbed the cultures that surround her. She has made a name for herself around the globe for her dramatic, earthy and intense performances.


Since 2000, she’s released five world-fusion albums, melding traditional Oriental, Turkish, Arabic and Spanish sounds. Each of her albums has garnered critical acclaim.


“I bring a very old musical journey into this music. There are many flavors,” Levy said in a phone interview from London. “People used to treat those songs as very old songs — which they are — but I refuse to see them like that. I see them as passionate, young songs, even 500-year-old songs.


“I want to make them all approachable to young people all over the world and people who have nothing to do with this tradition and language,” she added. “I opened those songs to a different kind of influence. Now, people from all over the world listen to Ladino, suddenly.”


Her songs are typically sung in Ladino, a language derived from Old Spanish, which was primarily spoken among Sephardic Jews. But what sets her apart from the rest is her new interpretations of medieval Ladino/Spanish songs, which she infuses with modern flamenco. Backing her is an assortment of musicians playing instruments from around the world, including the violin, oud, darbuka and cello, to name a few.


“On my previous albums I’ve had musicians from Paraguay, Spain, Israel, Egypt, Armenia, Iran, Turkey and Greece,” Levy said. “It makes my world much more beautiful and richer. I’ve never said to the musicians, ‘This is my music and this is how you have to play it.’ I always tell them to bring their own talent and inspiration.”


Living in Jerusalem enables Levy to work with an array of talent, something she doesn’t take for granted.


“From the inspiration side, it’s the best place ever because it’s a melting pot,” she said. “People came from all over the world to live in Jerusalem. There are Muslims, Christians,
Jews — so I grew up listening to all kinds of music. I bring it all out
in the music. It’s brilliant because I gain so many influences, there
are no borders.


"My
previous album, I got letters from people from all over the world —
from Iran, Germany, Turkey, Egypt and they feel like my music is their
own.”


In recent news, Levy and her husband are expecting their first child in July.


“I’ve got a feeling he’s going to be a musician, that’s a dream for me. It’s a part of life. I
am a musician, but also a woman and a wife and a mother, and I want to
experience that. It will make me sing and create better.”


Levy said being a new mother will only slow her down during a three-month maternity leave.


Then she’ll continue her touring schedule, which she said can get chaotic.


“Every
night is a different hotel, a different bed, different city, different
country, interviews, traveling, sound check: It’s a lot of work,” she
said. “Except for singing. When I’m on stage I am the happiest person
ever, I’m like a bird that’s flying. Having an audience that allows me
to be as wild as I am on stage and free — this is the best life ever,
and I would never change it.”

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