Yasmin Levy is an Israeli-Spanish singer songwriter who has received much attention on the world music scene. The popularity of her work obscures a fearsome dedication to her cultural roots and campaigning to save a disappearing culture.
Levy was born in Jerusalem in 1975 into a Sephardic family with their roots in Izmir, Turkey. Her father Yitzhak Isaac Levy. who died before she was 2 years old, was a composer and great exponent of Ladino music as well as being the editor of Ladino-language magazine, Aki Yerushalayim. Ladino (sometimes called Judeo-Spanish or Judezmo), is the traditional language of Sephardic peoples, as opposed to the Yiddish of Ashkenazi communities. The Ladino language is derived from Old Spanish with vocabulary from a range of sources including Hebrew, Arabic, Persian and Turkish. Yasmin Levy sings mainly in Ladino. She has followed in her father’s footsteps as a great champion of a language that is spoken in dwindling numbers but retains a deep social and cultural relevance.
Celebrating Sephardic Culture
Like the Ladino language, the music of the Sephardic Jews has a rich and complex history. Sephardic refers mainly to the Jewish communities of Spain and Portugal and the communities of Iberian origin expelled during the 15th century. Sephardic communities are still found in Spain and Portugal and around the Mediterranean, including the Balkans and North Africa. The influences of these diverse musical cultures can be seen in the instruments, styles and themes of Sephardic music.
Fusing the ancient and modern
From the traditional acoustic folk of her first album, Romance & Yasmin to her highly produced power ballads of her latest album, Rak Od Layla Echad, Levy has retained her commitment to Ladino. For those critical of hybrid sounds, Levy’s music demonstrates the ancient nature of fusion. She fuses Sephardic sounds with gypsy flamenco and Middle Eastern instruments. With ease she explores these ancient connections with fresh eyes. Levy skilfully combines the essence of Sephardic song whilst incorporating other musical traditions and contemporary forms. The result is music that sounds effortlessly both ancient and modern.
Yasmin Levy is a true performer with a sumptuous, emotional voice that is impossible to ignore. Her music is not only popular but has an important mission to halt the decline of Ladino language and culture. She has brought Sephardic music to a new generation and a broad international audience. Without trailblazing musicians like Levy, ancient traditions will undoubtedly be lost.
“I am proud to combine the two cultures of Ladino and flamenco, while mixing in Middle Eastern influences. I am embarking on a 500 years old musical journey, taking Ladino to Andalusia and mixing it with flamenco, the style that still bears the musical memories of the old Moorish and Jewish-Spanish world with the sound of the Arab world. In a way it is a ‘musical reconciliation’ of history.” Yasmin Levy