Sephardic music diva Yasmin Levy is set to perform Sunday, November 5, 2017 at Berklee Performance Center.
Yasmin Levy preserves and recovers the most beautiful and romantic songs from the Ladino/Judeo-Spanish tradition. Her intense and sensual vocals combines flamenco’s fiery passion with the microtonal essence of Middle Eastern music.
She is accompanied by Turkish and Arabic instruments such as the oud, ney, and qanun, along with hand percussion, acoustic guitar, and bass.
Gerard Edery was born in Casablanca and raised in Paris and New York City, speaking several languages throughout his childhood as he absorbed a variety of musical traditions spanning three continents.
Trained as a classical baritone while earning his Masters Degree at the Manhattan School of Music, he has since sung more than thirty roles with opera companies around the United States.
Gerard is also a virtuoso guitarist: melding classical, flamenco, jazz and folk techniques, he brings an intricate, sophisticated personal style both to original compositions and to his elaborate, expressive arrangements of traditional songs – a world-girdling repertoire encompassing some dozen different languages.
His special passion is the rich heritage of French, Spanish and Judeo-Spanish melody. Considered one of the leading interpreters of Sephardic Song, he was honored with the 1997 Sephardic Musical Heritage Award. In 2, he was also awarded a Meet the Composer! grant to write original songs.
Gerard has performed in major concert halls and festivals throughout the world. Gerard offers many inspiring programs in collaboration with many artists, including ud virtuoso George Mgrdichian, storyteller Peninnah Schram, cantors Alberto Mizrahi and Aaron Bensoussan, soprano Nell Snaidas, percussionist Rex Benincasa, playwright/lyricist Adina Ruskin and composer Noa Ain.
Edery is a prolific recording artist and has released over ten CDs on the Sefarad Records label.
Yasmin Levy revitalized the ancient art of Ladino singing, the Judeo-Spanish style whose songs reach back to 15th-century Spain. The Ladino singer was born Yasmin Levy in Bakaa, Jerusalem, Israel, on 23 December 1975. A ‘very small, beautiful neighborhood’, Bakaa is filled with narrow alleyways and warrens dating back many hundreds of years. The area is still a vital part of the history of this great city and, for Yasmin, her roots. She still lives in the flat to which her parents moved when they were first married. Family and roots are very important to Yasmin and juggling family and professional commitments made easier by the fact that her husband Ishay works and travels with her, playing darbuka in most of her shows and handling many of the logistical arrangements of touring. Whenever she has time off, she loves to return to Jerusalem and spend time with her mother, brothers, sister and their families.
Yasmin’s musical interests began as a child. At six years of age, she was taught to play piano and she continued with her studies until age eighteen. At twenty, she began singing seriously but it wasn’t until a year later that she made her first public performance as a guest in a concert given by her mother. Other local concerts followed but it wasn’t until world music showcase WOMEX 2002 that she made her international debut and embarked on a singing career.
Her first album Romance And Yasmin focused on Ladino music and Turkish influences and was greatly influenced by the work of her late father Yitzhak Levy. He was born in Turkey in 1919 and, at the tender age of 3, moved with his family to Palestine. As a grown man he worked as both a composer and cantor.
After the creation of the state of Israel he was appointed head of the Ladino department at Israel’s national radio station. His life’s work was devoted to the collection and preservation of the songs of Sephardic Jews: these songs had been passed down orally from generation to generation over a period in excess of 500 years. During his lifetime he published 4 books containing Sephardic romances and another 10 volumes of liturgical songs. He also recorded many of these same songs for the national radio. Sadly, Yitzhak Levy passed away when Yasmin was little over one year old. Nevertheless she grew up knowing her father’s love for this music and his heritage as he had also taught her mother Kochava the Sephardic repertoire and she, in turn, passed the songs on to their daughter. When Yasmin was preparing her first disc Romance And Yasmin, she said she was ‘helped enormously by the books and recordings my father left behind‘.
The songs and arrangements on this first album came very naturally to the singer, based on what she had learned from home. She says: ‘The choice of songs was easy for me as they are all songs to which I have an emotional attachment’. For her second album, the highly acclaimed La Juderia, Yasmin continued her work with the Ladino tradition but began to experiment more with the flamenco influences that date back to her residence in Spain during 2002. In that year, she was awarded a scholarship by the Christina Herren Foundation to study flamenco in Seville. There she was influenced strongly by the unique singing style that she then added to her own Sephardic one.
Her much-anticipated third album Mano Suave (World Village/Harmonia Mundi) was released in October 2007 and marked a mature return to her Ladino roots. Recorded in London’s Livingston Studios in February 2007, it has Lucy Duran and Jerry Boys co-producing. Continuing Yasmin’s tradition of using the best musicians available, the new album features players from Iran, Armenia, Greece, Paraguay, Israel, Turkey and Spain. Mano Suave also features Natacha Atlas on the title track.
Yasmin’s deep, spiritual singing, passionate vocal delivery and striking good looks continue to entrance fans new and old. She has thrice been nominated for BBC Radio 3 World Music Awards and her appearance on BBC 2 TV’s Later’With Jools in November 2005 was one of the highlights of that particular series.
In March 2006, Yasmin was presented with the Anna Lindh Award for promoting cross-cultural dialogue, for her work with musicians covering three cultures and her connection with the history of Spain. The award reflects many of her hopes for the future. On a musical level, these have been distilled into the music and songs on Mano Suave. On a more global scale, she desires ‘that people will have more compassion towards each other and learn to live in harmony’.
Light in Babylon – “Yeni Dunya” (indie release, 2016)
“Yeni Dunya” (new world) is the second album by a world music ensemble from Istanbul called Light in Babylon, who combine a wide-range of musical influences. On “Yeni Dunya” you’ll find original compositions inspired by Turkish and Sephardic music along with traditional Turkish folk music songs and reworking of John Lennon’s song “Imagine” that reappears with a fabulous Turkish beat as a bonus track.
The band is characterized by the spirited and charismatic vocals of Israeli (with Iranian roots) vocalist Michal Elia Kamal, the mesmerizing work of Turkish santur virtuoso Metehan Çifçi, Middle Eastern percussion, and the guitars of Frenchman Julien Demarque. These three artists are the composers of the original material and are supported by bass and drums.
The lineup on the album includes Michal Elia Kamal on vocals and darbuka; Julien Demarque on guitar, oud and vocals; Metehan Çifçi on santur and sansula (thumb piano); Jack Butler on bass; Stuart Dickson on percussion; and guest musician Ceyhun Kaya on clarinet.
Light in Babylon’s Yeni Dunya represents the diverse sounds of the Istanbul melting pot, with its fabulous mix of Middle Eastern musical traditions.
Mor Karbasi has one of the most beautiful voices in the world music scene. Her latest album is Ojos De Novia (Eyes of the Bride) where she continues her fascinating explorations of Andalusian, Sephardic and North African Berber music.
From her current base in Sevilla (Spain), Mor Karbasi is able to experience the legacy of ancient traditions left by Jewish, Moorish and Christian communities in Spain.
Mor Karbasi’s superb band complements her extraordinary voice. Led by her partner, multi-instrumentalist Joe Taylor, the musicians enable Mor Karbasi to cross musical boundaries, ranging from Berber, Sephardic and Medieval songs to flamenco, plus the added spice of modern music elements.
The lineup on Ojos De Novia includes Mor Karbasi on vocals; Joe Taylor on guitar, trumpet, saz and toy piano; Shimon Ifrah (leader of the Jerusalem Andalus Orchestra) on vocals; Cameroonian bass maestro Richard Bona; Kai Eckhardt on bass; and masterful flamenco guitarist Jose Israel Torres.
Ojos De Novia is beautifully crafted and captures the passionate heartfelt vocals of Mor Karbasi and her talented multinational world music band.
The more unique an artist’s path to self expression is, the more heroic and delightful is the result. Ana Alcaide expresses herself with, to quote Wikipedia, “a nyckelharpa (literally “key harp”, plural nyckelharpor), sometimes called a keyed fiddle, … traditional Swedish musical instrument. It is a string instrument or chordophone. Its keys are attached to tangents which, when a key is depressed, serve as frets to change the pitch of the string“. Okay, that’s off the beaten path in itself, but here’s where it gets really good — She uses her nyckelharpa to play music, as her label puts it, “inspired by the journey of the Sephardic Jews and the city of Toledo.”
So meet Olga at the casbah, but not before dusk on Saturday. There is a hint of the exotic, Moorish flavor to her music, but none of the minor key drone one would expect of klezmer, another Jewish musical form. This is the sound of fresh air, hope and excitement, of packing for a better life, of pageantry and rhythm.
Spanish musician Ana Alcaide has become a familiar name in Europe thanks to her new album La Cantiga del Fuego that hit the world music charts in Europe at number three. The album will be available in Europe and North America in November 2012.
World Music Central’s Angel Romero interviewed Ana Alcaide to find out more about her background and La Cantiga del Fuego.
When did you begin learning music?
At six. My parents detected that I had a gift for music and signed me up for after school programs in my school.
Which was your first musical instrument?
How many instruments do you play now?
Primarily the nyckelharpa, violin and vocals. I have an ability to play instruments, specially the bowed strings (rabel, kamanche, other fiddles). There are many others that also attract me and that I use in studio recordings, such as the Celtic harp and santur. The problem is finding time to study all!
You use as your main instrument the nyckelharpa, a Swedish instrument that is not well known in Spain. How did you discover it?
When I was finishing my degree in Biology, I was given an Erasmus scholarship to study in Sweden and I lived in Lund for a year. Attracted by the great Swedish musical tradition, during my free time I tried to attend all the music events posible and in one of them I saw a nyckelharpa for the first time. I fell in love with its sophistication and depth of sound.
Where did you learn how to play it?
Two years later, in Toledo. Until then, I didn’t have the economic means to get one. Then I started to play in the streets of Toledo during weekends, since during the weekdays I studied violin at the conservatory. A few years later I returned to Sweden to complete mu music training and to deepen my knowledge of the nyckelharpa.
You latest album is titled La Cantiga del Fuego. What does it mean?
The name comes from a traditional Sephardic song from Thessaloniki in Greece, that describes a fire that took place in that city. This title seemed very symbolic and suggestive, and I used it as the main the thread of the entire work: ‘The cantiga del fuego is the voice that has always been inside and that leads us to be what we are, that ancient powerful voice that echoes inside us since ancestral times.’
The songs on Las canciones de La Cantiga del Fuego have a Sephardic nature but they are original. What sources did you use to write the lyrics and compose the music?
I like to compose new melodies in the ancient language. The composition process is a very special phase: I let myself be carried by my instincts and I leave the rational on the side. When an idea appears, I try to mold it and find the song. I’m passionate and have fun arranging and producing my musical ideas. It’s what I enjoy the most!
When I compose a song, I always begin with the melody, lyrics come later. Perhaps because I feel more an instrumentalist than a singer, and the world of melodies is where I feel it’s easier to create. For this album I had the collaboration of my great friend and poet Beatriz Moreno-Cervera, who wrote two of the lyrics for my melodies. It’s been a really fun and enriching collaboration, that I’m sure will continue in the future!
What musicians did you use to carry out this Project?
This has been my first large production experience and I have learned a lot. I used great musicians and friends who provided special and enriching sonorities, expanding and coloring my musical ideas. The list of collaborators is very long and begins with the musicians with whom I work regularly. On ‘La Cantiga del Fuego’ you can listen to the psaltery, santur and oud of Bill Cooley, winds by Jaime Muñoz, basses by Renzo Ruggiero, guitars by Josete Ordoñez and Rafa del Teso, percussion by Diego López and Sergey Saprychev. In addition, there are very specific special collaborations such as the voice of Iranian artist Reza Sheyesteh, the Greek lyre of Dimitri Psonis and the hansa veena of Ido Segal.
Do you plan to take La Cantiga del Fuego to the stage?
The album came out in May in Spain, but I’ve been presenting live since January. I’ve performed over 40 concerts this year, most of them in Spain and a handful in France, Italy and Portugal. It’s been a very intense and productive year. In the future I plan to do international tours.
La Cantiga del Fuego, which is an independent production reached number 3 in the European World Music Charts. What does this mean to you and did you increase your sales?
Undoubtedly, it’s a great recognition that fills me with hope and motivation to continue! Sincerely, I was not expecting it, and I am very grateful to everybody who has supported me and I feel a commitment to continue to offer the best of me. These types of recognitions don’t have an immediate direct effect in record sales, but rather positive long term consequences, such as more publicity and international recognition.
I understand that British label Arc Music is going to release the album in November
Yes, I’m very excited!! ARC Music is going to release the album worldwide and this is a very good opportunity to get international exposure for my music, as well as reaching places that I can’t reach. I’m very happy to work with the ARC team.
You live in the ancient city of Toledo, a city in which Jews, Christians and Muslims coexisted. Paco de Lucia lived in Toledo recently. What does it mean to live in Toledo? And why do you think it attracts musicians and other artists?
Toledo is a beautiful city that attracts numerous artists because of its extremely rich historical past, no wonder it’s known as the ‘city of the three cultures.’ It’s a city that allows itself to be rediscovered over and over again. To me, it means a daily environment for inspiration, and I love being carried away by its influence. I’ve lived here for 10 years and this environment has provided me the necessary ingredients to develop my musical and artistic career: spirituality, inspiration, history. I love living in Toledo, I carry her with me.
Lately, there seems to be a renewed interest in Sephardic music in Israel, Spain, the United States, Europe and several countries in the Mediterranean. Why do you think there is such an interest?
In Spain, the interest has to do with tourism reasons, since we have a Jewish heritage that has not been promoted enough. I don’t know the reasons in other countries. In any case, the story of the Sephardic peoples is really interesting: it means a great example of coexistence, exchange and cultural enrichment.
If you could gather your ideal musicians or bands, who would you call?
What a difficult question! Above all, I admire great producers and composers, such as Gustavo Santaolalla, Nycky Ryan (Enya), Mike Oldfield, Karl Jenkins (Adiemus), Alan Parsons, and Quincy Jones. I love the songs by groups like Abba and Roxette. I understand music in 360º.
Spain is suffering a great economic crisis. How is it affecting musicians?
Being a musician in Spain is not considered a serious or honorable job. It’s not well recognized academically or valued socially. There is no support for musical creation, or for projects, or tours. The few supports available are practically designated, since Spain is a very corrupt country. In general, people don’t understand that we musicians are professionals who play a role in society, like other professionals. We don’t have a professional association that represents or supports us, and we are much disunited among ourselves. The fundamental problem is a great lack of culture, a tremendous lack of vision that feeds the great cultural crisis that is eating up Spain. The radical measures of cuts in education and the arts show a great ignorance by those who are in charge and forecast a very dark future. It’s very disheartening to live in such an environment with so little motivation. As a Spaniard, I am not proud at all of this situation and sometimes I feel like running away.
What music are you currently listening to?
Lately I listen to soundtracks. I find very interesting the job of joining music and film. The latest album I purchased is the soundtrack of ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ by Harry Gregson-Williams.
What do you like to do during your free time?
I travel a lot. I always love to have a trip in mind so that I can dream about it and plan it. I’m very attracted to other cultures and learning more about them. I love to go out to the countryside, specially the mountains. I like to read and cook a lot. I’m interested in natural sciences, phytotherapy and natural remedies.
What country or countries would you like to visit?
In general all! I’d love to see India, Korea, Thailand and the south of Asia. I’d also like to see Albania. I would also like to know more about Latin America, where people seem happy and joyful. I’d like to go to Chile and Costa Rica. My next trip is to Mexico, a country that I know and love. I like to learn about places in depth. I prefer to stay in a place for a long time and get to know it well rather than traveling in a superficial way.
If someone were to travel to Toledo, what places would you recommend for sightseeing, food and music?
Above all, my recommendation is that they forget about maps and get lost in its streets. Aside from the main monuments, I recommend that they visit historical spaces that open only on certain days and that are quite charming (organized by consorcio de Toledo). Also the thematic routes, there are some that are really varied and interesting.
For food: La Abadía. To have a coffee or attend a concert, the Círculo de Arte de Toledo.
What other projects do you have?
My family. I have a beautiful son and a wonderful partner! I love being with them. If I had more time, I would study some natural medicine, Philosophy and Art History.
Fans of Celtic powerhouse Enya’s early work will likely dip into Spanish singer, songwriter and musician Ana Alcaide and find a reason to rejoice. Hitting the world music charts in Europe at number three with her La Cantiga del Fuego, Ms. Alcaide will soon be available to a worldwide audience with the recording’s release on the ARC Music label come November. With previous recordings Viola de Teclas and Como La Luna y El Sol to her credit, Ms. Alcaide pulls out all the stops on this latest project.
Drawing on influences of Toledo, Spain and the Sephardic traditions of the city, Ms. Alcaide flavors La Cantiga del Fuego with a wealth of world music instruments like the oud, santoor, bouzouki, mandola, medieval lute, darbuka along with her own playing of the nyckelharpa and Celtic harp against her sweet vocals to create a lush musical landscape that is delicately and intricately worked.
Writing all of the tracks on La Cantiga del Fuego, Ms. Alcaide opens with the brightly worked “El Pozo Amargo” before slipping seamlessly into the intriguing “Baila Donde El Mar.” Cleverly working with a wide range of instrumentation, La Cantiga del Fuego dips toes into Indian, Middle Eastern and Spanish influences effortlessly, stacking up a series of tracks that blurs musical boundaries.
Music fans are sure to enjoy “La Cantiga del Fuego – El Viaje” before delving into the fragile beauty of “Luna Sefardita.” Other gems include “”La Reina Ester,” “En El Jardin de la Reina” and “La Cantia del Fuego – La Cancion,” not to mention the fabulous duo “Mikdash Intro” and “Mikdash.”