18 april 2008

Interview with Yasmin Levy

Na het verschijnen van haar cd Mano Suave in 2007, een plaat die nú al terecht betiteld is als instant klassieker binnen het genre van de wereldmuziek, is de ster van Yasmin Levy rijzende. In maart j.l. deed ze Nederland weer aan en heb ik geprobeerd een interview met haar af te nemen vóór haar concert in Rotterdam. Helaas is dat toen niet gelukt, maar inmiddels is het wel zo ver en heeft "la reina del ladino" haar hart opengesteld en antwoord gegeven op enkele persoonlijke vragen die ik haar stelde over haar muziek en roots. Zie hier het resultaat:

You try to spread and conserve the unique Ladino culture with your music. What does it mean for you personally to be a "Ladina"?

I was introduced to Ladino singing and culture from childhood. My father, the late Yitzhak Levy, dedicated himself to documenting these songs which had been passed down for generations by word of mouth. My mother sang these songs at home while I was growing up. So for me, being a “Ladina” is simply part of my culture and heritage; it’s who I am.

The Ladino music is simply wonderful, especially your interpretation of it. Why is the Ladino culture threatened in its existence?

As there are only about 200,000 people remaining in the world who actually speak this language, it is a culture which is under threat. People my age no longer speak the language and I imagine that in a generation or two the language will be lost. This is why it’s so important for me to try to bring these songs to a global audience, in order to help preserve this beautiful heritage.

Do you consider yourself more a song composer or more a messenger of traditional ladino songs?

I am both. I love to write music any lyrics and I’m fortunate that people seem to react very positively to my songs. In my current tour I’ve been playing songs like Una Noche Mas and La Alegria which I’ve written and it’s always exciting to hear the warm reaction of the public. At the same time, I also feel I have a “mission” to bring those traditional songs to a wide audience and I’m happy that these arrangements of the Ladino songs is so well received.

You are becoming increasingly popular as an artist in the western world. How do the Ladino people see your success?

Wherever I go, there is usually someone who comes to me after the show who wants to talk to me about their Sephardi background and those moments are always special for me. Sometimes, though, my arrangements are quite different from the traditional way in which those songs were sung (often a capella) and certainly I’ve had reactions at home to my version of Noches in which I take a traditional Ladino song and put a flamenco rhythm to it. For the “purists”, perhaps that is a step too far. But for me, this is what art is all about; the experimentation and excitement of injecting new life through new influences!

To me your music is a mixture of Arab sounds and flamenco. One of the things flamenco music also offers is the exciting dancing part. What happened to that specific dancing part of flamenco, did it merge into the Ladino culture or did it get lost?

Flamenco dancing was never associated with Ladino. Early flamenco was about the music and rhythm, with dancing being introduced later. I only use the musical elements in order to keep the focus clearly on these Ladino songs.

Do you ever consider merging other sounds into your music by cooperating with other musicians from f.e. Africa or Latin America?

Yes, of course. Just as we’ve incorporated musicians and influences from Iran, Armenia, Turkey, Greece, Spain, Israel, Egypt, Chile and England on this latest album, so I would like to continue to bring diverse musicians together from as many different cultures as possible.

You operate from Israel, a problematic region. But your lyrics are about personal matters, there is no politics involved. Why not?

I am an artist, not a politician. So I express my feelings through songs. That is why it was so important for me to be able to record with my friend and great singer Natacha Atlas on this album. It is my desire that people may realise that it is only through collaboration, mutual respect, and appreciation that we may eventually find a way to bridge the political abyss of the Middle East.

Will the spreading of the Ladino culture always be your main thing or do you think you will make different kind of music in the future?

I don’t feel encumbered by my Ladino culture in any way. These songs have given me the opportunity to travel the world and spread knowledge about our rich culture. Along the way, I’ve been lucky enough to be able to work with very talented musicians and express that history through modern arrangements. I hope to continue to push those boundaries and explore different musical influences, even as Ladino will always remain at the core of who I am.

Gracias Yasmin for having this interview with me. Mucha suerte con tu carrera, espero que tengas mucho más éxito en el futuro.

Live verslag Yasmin Levy in Lantaarn/Venster, maart 2008 by Chenque

Live verslag Yasmin Levy @ NSJ, 2007 by Chenque

MySpace Yasmin Levy

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