Yasmin Levy – “La Judería” + “Sentir”

After the fall of the Abbasids in Bag­dad in the ear­ly 10th cen­tu­ry the cen­tre of the Muslin world moved to Cor­do­ba is south­ern Spain. And for four or five cen­turies, Islam­ic enquiry, the Jew­ish intel­lect and Andalu­sian heat com­bined to pro­duce an intox­i­cat­ing cul­tur­al mix of improb­a­ble diver­si­ty and inex­haustible depth. Need­less to say, the glo­ry that was the con­viven­cia couldn’t last, and in 1492 the junior part­ner in that eth­nic tri­umvi­rate suc­ceed­ed in hav­ing the Jews expelled from Spain, and then Por­tu­gal, and the Sephardim fled back to the Levant.

Sephardic is Hebrew for Span­ish, and Span­ish Jews expressed them­selves cul­tur­al­ly through Ladi­no, a mix­ture of Castil­ian and Hebrew which they formed for the per­form­ing of their poet­ry and music, so as to dis­tin­guish them­selves from their Mus­lim brethren. After their cat­a­stroph­ic expul­sion from Spain all that remained of the convivencia’s stel­lar explo­sion was the trail of the ladi­no lan­guage that was left hang­ing in the fir­ma­ment. And it is this that Yas­min Levy seeks to pre­serve, just as her father Yitzhak had before her.

Like Susana Baca, Omara Por­tuon­do and Mariza from Peru, Cuba and Por­tu­gal, Levy is ded­i­cat­ed to nur­tur­ing and fos­ter­ing her cul­tur­al her­itage by enshrin­ing it in song. And like them, she does so by plac­ing it in the con­text of the musi­cal sur­round­ings that pro­duced those songs in the first place. So the tra­di­tion­al Jew­ish songs and poet­ry of her past are infused by the sounds and aro­mas of Turkey, Greece and the whole of north Africa, and they are all bol­stered by the rhythms of a Fla­men­co beat.

She does take one false step on her lat­est album, Sen­tir, where she unwise­ly allowed her tour man­ag­er to per­suade her to cut a ver­sion of Hal­lelu­jah. Record­ing a Leonard Cohen song but chang­ing the lyrics, albeit in trans­la­tion, is a bit like, well, record­ing a Leonard Cohen song but chang­ing the lyrics.

But that aside, Sen­tir is every bit as cap­ti­vat­ing as the mes­mer­ic La Jud­ería, from 2005. The lat­ter is a bit more earthy, a bit more impas­sioned, betray­ing the seri­ous­ness of youth. “I have no home, no land, net even a coun­try” comes the painful, plan­gent lament on the open­ing track, Naci En Alamo. And that heady mix of north Africa, Andalu­sia and Jew­ish exile is pal­pa­ble throughout.

On the oth­er hand, Sen­tir boasts a brace of heart­break­ing­ly beau­ti­ful duets, Una Pas­toral with her father, who died when she was just one, and Porque with the Greek Eleni Viatli. All her albums are, hap­pi­ly, now wide­ly avail­able. I shall be treat­ing myself to Mano Suave over the next few weeks. I don’t think I’ve ever been so com­plete­ly cer­tain about being entranced by an album I’ve yet to hear a sin­gle note of.

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