Anne L. Ryan reports on Yasmin Levy – The Junction Shed, Cambridge, 5 Oct 2006

Artist Visiting Cambridgeshire
The imploring voice of Yasmin Levy, heavy with Ladino structures and ornamentation, cannot but demand complete attention. From the opening moment, with the sultry doudouk shadowed by the imprint of her timeless voice, Levy took hold - and you could hear the audiences' silent gasp.

This was not so much a performance as a quasi-awakening - a bringing to light of a sound locked for centuries in Mediterranean and Arabic cultures. The Ladino language in which she weaves her spell is an archaic 15th century form of Spanish developed by the Iberian Jews when outcast by the Moors. Today, reverberations of this style can be heard at Easter when the accapella La Saeta is sung in the street during Spain's Holy Week. Levy brings it new life with heartfelt warmth, providing succour to the washed-out. Madre Si Esto Hazina sung by an anguished sick daughter, implores her mother not to bring doctors or sing prayers to aid her recovery; rather, bring her twelve young men.

Levy varied her vocal technique as each song dictated, adding colour, light, texture and tone, encouraging the audience to listen afresh each time. Nani Nani uses a lyrical, imploring sound from the back of the nose to create the anguish felt by a mother suckling her child in the knowledge that its father is with another woman. Kondja Mia, Kondja Mia uses a voice in which the vocal sound was projected spring-board-like from an open, hollow throat, then halted as if by a stopper, creating tension. Noches Noches uses coloratura elaborately to imitate hesitation as three daughters steady themselves for the jump from a mothers' love into the arms of a lover.

Levy's sound was special and different precisely because of her atunement to her heritage. Her mother taught her orally the songs collected by her father, who died when she was very small. Her acoustic ensemble of percussion and stringed instruments was also arranged with acute sensitivity; the total sound, with Levys' voice at the helm, will stir the heart of those who care to be touched by the echo of our ancient past.

This gig was reviewed on the recommendation of DJ Skunk.

2006 Copyright © Moving Tone Ltd.

Writer: Anne L. Ryan