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Posted on Mon, Nov 9, 2009 : 12:04 p.m.

Yasmin Levy uses Ladino music to build tolerance

By Roger LeLievre


Israeli singer-songwriter Yasmin Levy will perform at Hill Auditorium on Saturday, Nov. 14.

Gal Deren

Israeli singer-songwriter Yasmin Levy, a champion of Ladino, the ancient language of the Sephardic Jews, has a goal: to revive the beautiful songs of her Ladino/Judeo-Spanish heritage and use that music to build cultural tolerance.

“I believe music is the best way with which you can feel, understand, appreciate and love one another, and create a harmony with each other,” she said. “In music there are no interests, no lies, no intrigues — just pure giving and sharing. I consider myself lucky to have music in my life as my main language.”

Levy performs with her band in Hill Auditorium on Saturday night, courtesy the University Musical Society. Prior to embarking on her U.S. tour, she has been touring in Spain and Israel.

“I sing traditional Sephardic songs, as well as Spanish songs with the flavor of Flamenco music,” Levy explained in an e-mail interview. “It sounds like a mixture of Andalusian music together with Oriental music.”

Born in Jerusalem in 1975, Levy had early exposure to Ladino culture. Her father, Isaac Levy, who died when she was only a year old, was dedicated to researching and preserving the Judeo-Spanish culture.

“He is my main inspiration, together with my mother,” Levy said of her father. “Today I am more open to other sources but I do have at home the greatest fountain of inspiration.”

Her first album, “Romance And Yasmin,” focused on Ladino music and Turkish influences. Her second album, “La Juderia,” combined flamenco and Sephardic styles. Her third album, “Mano Suave,” was recently released in the U.S., and a new album, “Sentir,” was released in Europe last month.

Listen to the Yasmin Levy album "Mano Suave"

She has spoken of a “musical reconciliation of history,” and Levy elaborated on that comment in her e-mail.

“I sing songs from the time that Jews lived in Spain in peace, with Muslims and Christians in a golden age where they respected one another. I believe that through these songs, and other music, it could happen today as well,” she said.

United Kingdom newspapers such as The Guardian (“the next world music superstar”) and The Independent (“Levy’s biggest asset is her voice, which is versatile, sensuous, and brimming with emotion”) have been enthusiastic about Levy’s talents — perhaps too much so.

“I am not a superstar. I am a musician, a singer with a mission,” she said. “Of course it is nice to be appreciated and nice to read generous reviews. But I really don’t think about it after I read these things. I am just happy to be able to share this beautiful music with people from all over the world and make them happy.”

In March 2006, Levy was presented with the Anna Lindh Prize for promoting cross-cultural dialog, for her work with musicians covering three cultures, and her connection with the history of Spain. She currently serves as Goodwill Ambassador for Children of Peace, a U.K.-based charity working to alleviate the plight of children caught up in the decades-old Middle East crisis.

She said it is important for her to help Ladino music live on.

“It is my tradition, my culture, my being,” she explained. “And it is also my way to keep in touch with my father who I never knew, as he passed away when I was one year old. I think it is important for us to remember who we are and where we come from.”

PREVIEW Yasmin Levy Who: Up-and-coming world music artist, presented by the University Musical Society. What: Israeli singer-songwriter blends her Ladino/Judeo-Spanish musical roots with Andalucian flamenco. Where: Hill Auditorium, 825 N. University Ave. When: Saturday, Nov. 14, 8 p.m. How much: $10-$40. Info: UMS web site; 734-764-2538. Tickets may also be purchased in person at the League Ticket Office, 911 North University Ave.

Yasmin Levy performing "Irme Kero" live on Dutch television on 2007:

Roger LeLievre is a free-lance writer who covers music for