Discovering his Latin love

Shem-Tov Levi takes on tango in his first collaboration with the Pitango quartet.

Shem-Tov Levi 88 224 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Shem-Tov Levi 88 224
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Considering his meandering track record, it should not come as too much of a surprise to find Shem-Tov Levi involved in something outside his "normal" sphere of activity. Then again, high energy tango music has not featured at all in the 57-year-old singer-songwriter-flutist-keyboardist's career to date. On Monday, Levi will start a 12-date tour of the country with the Pitango Quartet and half-a-dozen dancers. It looks like a colorful show is in store. "I think it will be a lot of fun," says Levi, while admitting the project is new ground for him. "I never really thought about doing something with tango before this came up. Of course, I had heard the music - people like [Argentinean tango composer and bandoneon player Astor] Piazzolla. And Yidov got me into some of the Latin stuff too." The "Yidov" in question is Argentinean-born Israeli guitarist-singer Shlomo Yidov who, along with Levi and composer-singer-pianist Shlomo Gronich, made up 1970s Israeli progressive rock band Ktzat Aheret. A quick run through Levi's CV reveals remarkably wide-ranging musical endeavors. To some Levi is best known as songwriter and sidekick to Arik Einstein, with whom he produced a string of hit numbers and top selling albums in the Eighties and Nineties, but Levi has also played and recorded jazz, blues, Israeli folk and even classical music. "Perhaps that is something I have in common with Pitango," he muses. "They are all classically trained and I have also worked in that area." Levi started his musical education under the tutelage of an Israel Philharmonic Orchestra flutist and a successful career in the classical world beckoned. But Levi had been exposed to all kinds of influences from a very young age, and he had other ideas. "I come from a Bulgarian family, and I also heard Yemenite and classical music as a boy. Then there was the pop and rock of the Sixties. It all got mixed up together." Levi also writes soundtracks for films. He provided the musical backdrop for the successful 2001 Israeli film Desperado Square, and for a subsequent CD of the same name which included a multitude of ethnic themes. Stations, released last year and with which Levi appeared at the 2007 Red Sea Jazz Festival, incorporates gypsy, Arabic and Bulgarian material. "So, doing tango is, I suppose, just another area of world music in which I have had an interest for a long time," Levi notes. "Whenever something new comes up, I research. I absorb influences, and something new comes out, refreshes me and I learn something new. I like new directions. It helps me to open up." The forthcoming show will also incorporate some of Levi's own songs, with added tango flavoring. Levi favorites, such as "Shuvi Levetech," "Belaylot Hastav" and "Tavass Hazahav" will be given a Latin twist, and he will also lend his flute and vocal skills to three Piazzolla works. Levi says he is looking forward to the Pitango tour and does not rule out further forays into tango territory at some future juncture. "Maybe in five years' time there will be something of a tango element on a new CD of mine. You have to keep looking for new avenues of creativity, otherwise it gets boring." With that ethos, energetic tango vibes and dancers on hand, there's not much chance of anyone around the country getting bored with the Pitango-Levi synergy. The Pitango Quartet and Shem-Tov Levi will perform at Heichal Hatarbut in Karmiel on January 28; Yifat Auditorium, Jezreel Valley on January 31; Givatayim Theater on February 2; Heichal Hatarbut, Petah Tikva on February 9; the Performing Arts Center, Herzliya on February 15; Vix Auditorium, Weizmann Institute, Rehovot on February 19; Eshkol Auditorium, Kibbutz Magen on February 22; Enav Culture Center, Tel Aviv on February 27; Beit Gabriel, Jordan Valley on February 28; Yahalom Theater, Ramat Gan on March 1; Tzafon Theater, Kiryat Haim on March 2; and Heichal Hatarbut, Ashkelon on March 5.