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.



Speak Your Mind