Since putting out her debut album Romance & Yasmin at age 25, Jerusalemite Ladino singer Yasmin Levy has followed a meteoric continuum across the world’s stages, playing at major festivals and prestigious venues with ever-increasing frequency. But Levy’s globetrotting is due to be put on hold in the summer as she swaps her spreading girth for her first offspring.
“I have wanted to start a family for some time,” says the 35-year-old motherto- be, who is married to her manager and percussionist Yishai Amir. “I can’t wait.”
Recently Levy added to her growing professional output by publishing the Yasmin Levy Music Book, marked by a packed-to-the-rafters launch show at the Hatav Hashmini record store in downtown Jerusalem. It is a surprising addition to her four-album discography and one DVD release to date. But surely, what Levy’s growing band of fans want is to hear her emotive vocals rather than leaf through a volume of scores and lyrics.
There is, however, more to the publication than initially meets the eye.
“So many people have asked me for a book of my songs because they want to see the lyrics and the scores,” explains Levy. “In a way, they don’t need my book because there are my father’s songbooks.
But his books aren’t too user-friendly, so mine is a way for them to get to know these songs better.”
Levy’s father was Yitzhak Levy, a Turkish- born composer and cantor and pioneer researcher into the long and rich history of Ladino music and culture. He did much to keep the heritage alive in this country after making aliya. He died when Levy was only a year old.
“It’s strange because I have no real recollection of him,” says Levy, “but I feel he is always with me when I am on stage.”
Presumably, Levy senior would have approved of his daughter’s new book,
which has some added non-musical ingredients as well. “There is a
chapter about the history of Ladino,” says Levy. “It is very important
to explain that to people.”
Naturally, when it comes to Jews of any ilk, there is a food-related
slot too, with a recipe for spicy cheese-based burekas at the end of the
book. The gastronomic inclusion was inspired by an extra-curricular
activity Levy undertook Down Under.
“Yes, food is very important to Jews everywhere, but I got the idea for
putting the recipe in the book when I performed at a WOMAD [World of
Music, Arts and Dance] festival in Australia,” she explains.
“The organizers asked all the artists to prepare a dish from their own
culture and I made cheese burekas, based on the recipe in the songbook.
It was great fun, and tasty too.”
At the end of the day, though, the new book is about the songs. There
are 20 numbers in there, with the lyrics given in English, French and
Ladino. Five of the songs were written by Levy, and the rest are
traditional musical fare.
“The book is really a tribute to all the people who have supported me
over the years and who love the music. I think it opens up a window onto
the music and the Ladino tradition,” she says.
In fact, for Levy the new tome is more than just a printed version of
the material she performs to great acclaim all over the world. “I think
that these days, some people don’t give the music industry the respect
it deserves. People download music from the Internet instead of buying
CDs, the tangible thing. I love getting albums. The first thing I do
when I get one is smell it. I do that with books, too.
If all you do is download an album, you miss the experience of the physicality, which I believe is a very important part.”
Anyone who has heard a Levy album, let alone seen her live, can’t help
but note the highly emotive approach she takes to her work. That comes
through the strongest in the form of unapologetic angst. “People say to
me, ‘There are happy Ladino songs – why do go for the sad ones? But that
is me. A lot of outdoor festivals don’t book me because, at many
festivals, youngsters go along, have a beer or two and want to get up
and dance. But I play at festivals in closed halls where the audience
comes to listen. I can’t sing songs that are just cute, that don’t have
some kind of message.” That comes through loud and clear in all Levy’s
work, as well as in her songbook.
That said, Levy does not rule out a change of tack somewhere along the line.
“I’m getting older and I don’t feel I have to prove anything to anyone anymore. I do what feels right for me.”
Right now, that means promoting her new book and continuing to perform,
with a hiatus for a stork visit coming up. “I will continue to perform
after I have the baby,” she says. “I am really looking forward to being a
mother, but I need to sing too.”For more information about the Yasmin Levy Music Book: www.yasminlevy.net