Fri March 11, 2011
Music Reviews

Yasmin Levy: Rearranging The Past

Yasmin Levy is a young Israeli singer-songwriter whose music blends Mediterranean styles, rich with a sense of history. Levy's fourth album, Sentir, fuses the music of the Sephardic Jews, who trace their roots to medieval Spain, with flamenco. Spanish culture and history lie at the heart of Levy's work, but this is music that no single nation can claim.

Sentir opens like a jazz waltz with "Mi Korason," but there's no missing the Mediterranean air in Levy's vocal. Her voice is liquid — it comes in ripples and waves, passionate but effortless. She sings here in Ladino, a language forged centuries ago in Spain with elements of Hebrew, Arabic, Greek and a variety of other tongues. Ladino was carried around the world by the Sephardic Jews. Today, it's endangered, spoken by fewer than 200,000 people.

There's a raspy, torn quality in Levy's high notes, which comes from her study of flamenco. Flamenco was created in Spain but influenced by gypsies who came from the east — all part of the ebb and flow of Mediterranean history. Sentir also taps into flamenco's tripping, propulsive rhythms, as in the original composition "Porque."

Levy was born in Jerusalem. Her father Yitzak was a cantor and composer, and a man devoted to preserving the music of the family's Sephardic Jewish ancestors. He died when she was just a year old, but her work continues his. In "Una Pastoral," Levy sings a virtual duet with her father, a lilting Ladino song in praise of a shepherdess.

Sentir is loaded with history and meaning. It's also a pleasure to listen to, and surprisingly contemporary in its almost casual traverse of far-flung musical diasporas. Levy rearranges the strands of the world's tangled past to arrive at a more orderly and beautiful present. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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