That language is Ladino, an ancient form of Spanish recognized by UNESCO as endangered. Following the inquisition in 1492, Jews who were forced to leave Spain - many with just the shirts on their back and songs in their hearts carried the language to places like North Africa, Turkey, Greece and the Balkans. In turn, each country helped to the shape Ladino language and culture, which today is spoken by fewer than 200,000 people world-wide.
Proclaimed the next world music superstar" by Robin Denselow of the London Guardian, Levy has earned sold-out shows and record charting success abroad, and has a unique connection to the music she sings as many of the Ladino works she performs were catalogued by her late father, Yitzhak Levy. A composer and cantor born in Turkey, he was a musicologist devoted to the collection and preservation of Sephardic music passed down from generation to generation for more than five centuries.
My father taught these songs to my mother, who taught them to me in the kitchen," explains Levy. I took them from the kitchen to the stage." She made her professional debut at the WOMAX International World Music Expo in 2002.
Levy views Ladino as not just a history, but a cultural heritage which she is determined to see live on. Her performances which draw together musicians of a diversity of faiths and cultures working together in peace embody her hope for the future. Singing in Spanish, French, Hebrew and Arabic, as well as Ladino, Levy and her band communicate the universal human experience through the unifying language of music.
Levy's Ladino songs as well as self-penned works are featured on her third internationally released album titled Mano Suave, which will become her first CD release in the United States. Starting in late October through November, Levy will tour 10 US cities in support of the album which has earned critical acclaim abroad. Although this is her first U.S. national tour, the raven-haired songstress has built quite a following here: in 2005, she performed standing room only concerts at Carnegie Hall's Zankel Hall, New York's Joe's Pub, and Los Angeles' Skirball Center. Mano Suave is her masterpiece," said Nigel Williamson, HMV Choice (UK).
Mano Suave is what Jerusalem sounds like. That mixture of sadness, the past, sorrow; the smells of food; the three religions in the Old City, where you have a church, a mosque and a synagogue all together," explains Levy. Recorded in London's Livingston Studios, the album was co-produced by Lucy Duran and Jerry Boys (Buena Vista Social Club) and features players from Iran, Armenia, Greece, Paraguay, Israel, Turkey and Spain. We respect each other, and we can learn from each other" she has often said of her multi-ethnic musical colleagues
Levy learned at an early age that her father thought the life of a musician was very difficult. So she studied piano and did the responsible thing" by becoming a reflexology expert. The day she opened her practice she found herself counting the minutes until the first patient was done. Same with the second. She knew instantly that she would have to pursue music, no matter how difficult it would be.
Levy has gone on to perform throughout the world and enjoyed critical acclaim and strong sales. She is outspoken about the need for cultural tolerance and perhaps the best example is her reaching out to Egyptian songstress Natacha Atlas who sings a duet with Yasmin on the new record. Our duet is a message of hope," Levy has said. I want people to pay attention that a Jew and an Arab can make music together that comes from a place of mutual love and respect."
Her first album Romance And Yasmin (Adama Music) focused on Ladino music and Turkish influences and was nominated for a BBC World Music award. For her second album, the highly acclaimed La Juderia (Adama Music), Levy continued her work with the Ladino tradition while experimenting with the musical influences she experienced in Seville in 2002 when she was awarded a scholarship to study flamenco from the Christina Herren Foundation.
Her album (Mano Suave) feels like the one that will finally put her up there with the likes of Mariza and Cesaria Evora. Mano Suave is simply a great record of cracking songs beautifully sung. Her voice has never sounded so passionate. Mano Suave is her masterpiece," said Nigel Williamson, HMV Choice (UK).
In October 2008, Mano Suave was nominated for Holland's prestigious Edison Award, the Dutch equivalent of the Grammys, in Best World Music Album category. Highly praised by critics, the CD was also a commercial success, hitting the Top 30 in Holland and the Top 10 on Sweden's mainstream pop music charts with strong sales in Europe, Australia and Israel.
Described by Clive Davis of The Sunday Times as one of the most passionate vocalists at work today." Levy's deep, spiritual singing, passionate vocal delivery, charismatic sense of humor and striking good looks have mesmerized audiences and media around the world. Last year Levy played her first national tour of Australia culminating in a sold-out performance at the Sydney Opera House. She has also performed throughout England, Sweden, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Finland, Poland, Holland, Germany and France as well as dates in Bulgaria and Montenegro last year. In January 2008, Levy sold out Israel's National Opera House in Tel Aviv. She has appeared at WOMAD Festivals in Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Spain, UK and Canary Islands as well as at New York's Carnegie Hall.
A native of Israel, Levy is the recipient of the Anna Lindh Award (2006) for promoting cross-cultural dialogue and serves as a Goodwill Ambassador for Children of Peace, a UK-based charity fighting to alleviate the plight of all children caught up in the decades-old Middle East crisis. Her touring band is comprised of Yechiel Hasson from Israel on guitar, Vardan Hovanissian from Armenia on flute, duduk, ney, and clarinet; Miles Danso from Ghana on electric double bass; and Israeli percussionist Ishay Amir.
2009 US Tour Dates
Tuesday, October 27 San Diego, CA The Loft, University of California at San Diego
Wednesday, October 28 Los Angeles, CA The Skirball Center
Thursday, October 29 San Francisco, CA Herbst Theatre as part of the San Francisco Jazz Festival
Saturday, October 31 San Francisco, CA California Institute of Integral Studies Workshop
Sunday, November 1 St. Paul, MN Ordway Center for the Performing Arts
Monday, November 2 St. Paul, MN University of St. Thomas workshop
Wednesday, November 4 Chicago, IL Old Town School of Folk Music
Saturday, November 7 New York, NY The World Music Institute at Symphony Space
Monday, November 9 Seattle, WA The Triple Door
Tuesday, November 10 Calgary, Alberta, Canada EPCOR Center for the Arts
Thursday, November 12 Columbus, OH Columbus Association for the Performing Arts
Saturday November 14 Ann Arbor, MI Universal Musical Society