A Ladino Singer Rebels –– With Flamenco

Music

By Eric Marx

Published November 25, 2005, issue of November 25, 2005.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Yasmin Levy should be a very happy woman. The Jerusalem-born singer is perhaps the most visible and popular performer of contemporary Ladino music. Critics gushed over her 2001 debut album, “Romance & Yasmin,” and well-received performances at the World of Music, Arts & Dance festivals in Singapore and Madrid in 2004 and 2005 have garnered Levy the kind of crossover success to which few others in the genre come close.

But when it comes to discussing her second release, “La Juderia” and its heavy flamenco influence, Levy sounds more like a spurned exile.

“People [in the Sephardic-Ladino community] in Israel are angry with me,” said Levy, 28, referring to the flamenco. “It’s something I had to do, and I can tell you today, I’m not a flamenco singer.”

“La Juderia” does indeed have a considerable flamenco flavor. A Ladino-based album in melody and content that incorporates flamenco rhythms, contemporary Spanish and Arabic instrumentation, “La Juderia” was blasted by critics who felt the album was a scattershot, effort-lacking focus. But the criticism has made Levy defiant.

“My intention is to not only be a Ladino singer. I can do both. I can offer the world more than Ladino,” she insisted, “but I will sing Ladino for the rest of my life.”

Levy is the daughter of Yitzhak Levy, a renowned Ladino ethnomusicologist and musician who died when she was 1 year old. She was virtually weaned on his recordings, yet she had turned away from his music. But when she was 17, a family friend persuaded her to sing one of her father’s old songs.

“That’s the only thing I have from him: his voice,” Levy said of her father’s recordings.

It was Yitzhak Levy, in fact, who helped usher in the present-day Ladino musical revival when, in 1959, he published the first of a 14-volume set of field recordings. Yet he also left instructions for his wife to destroy the original tapes to avoid criticism that he was misinterpreting the songs. Without original recordings, he thought people would not be able to second-guess whether his work was accurate. (He was wrong; the criticism he feared has indeed been lobbed at him posthumously.)

“For me it’s a great loss that you cannot hear the people,” Levy said. “But you can hear the song. You do have the song. You just don’t have the original tape.”

“Everything he recorded you can look at in the books,” Levy said. She acknowledges the incalculable loss while attempting to defend her mother, who ended up burning thousands of reels of tape.

Levy is unmindful of neither the controversy surrounding her father nor the perilous state of Ladino culture. But so, too, is she an artist who sees herself belonging to a larger musical tradition in which flamenco is a tangible link to Jewish and Muslim religious songs. She said she still had much to learn, and confided that for a time she did everything she could to run away from the music, though today she’s developed a newfound appreciation. “I grew up with Ladino and so it’s logical I’d want to do something else.

“Everyone wants Ladino, but I said to myself, ‘I have to do what I want.’ People have to hear me as a singer.”

Eric Marx is a freelance writer based in New York City.






Find us on Facebook!
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.