Ache and Anger, Desire and Tenacity

Yasmin Levy

The Israeli singer Yasmin Levy has devoted herself to preserving Sephardic songs in the Judeo-Spanish language Ladino. Her father, Yitzhak Levy, who was Turkish, devoted much of his life to collecting those songs. For Ms. Levy, preserving doesn’t rule out updating and personalizing the music or adding ideas from outside the tradition. She sings with passionate volatility, using tiny quavers and sudden outbursts that make each song a scalloped series of emotional peaks: tearful, determined, baleful. The arrangements on her album “Sentir” (World Village), just released in the United States, draw on the acoustic guitar and handclaps of flamenco, the woodwinds of the Balkans and Eastern Europe (particularly the duduk, a mournful Armenian flute) and the elegant piano of tango and cabaret. Along with Sephardic songs, full of desperate lovers’ plaints, she sings her own material and a translation of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” She also includes a Natalie Cole moment — sharing a song with a recording of her father — that becomes a graceful generational dialogue.
(Tags: Sephardic, Music)