Yasmin Levy is a fireball of an Israeli vocalist set to become the next super star of the region in the wake of the much-lamented Ofra Haza. Her Turkish father moved to Palestine when young and worked as composer and cantor to eventually become the appointed head of the Ladino department at Israel's national radio station, a position that supported his life's work of collecting and preserving the oral musical legacy of the Sephardic Jews. Though her father passed when Yasmin was merely a year old, she inherited his love of music and the Sephardic legacy in particular and had on hand his four books of romances and another 10 volumes of lithurgical songs.
Entitled Romance & Yasmin, her debut album naturally culls from this familiar repertoire while the follow-up La Juderia incorporates and mixes in Flamenco strains, an outcome of her 2002 scholarship residency in Seville to study Flamenco. Endowed with powerful pipes and emotive projection, you'd never accuse Yasmin of under singing. Backing herself in overdubbed refrains or melodic echoes, accompanied by accomplished instrumentalists, crafting juicy arrangements benefitting from her piano training and mining musical material charged with memories and tradition, these ingredients add up to fiery fare that epitomizes its label's credo - Connecting Cultures.
Pushing herself routinely to the vocal edge willfully courting risks, your heart would have to be dead not to respond to the magnetic presence she manages to build up over the course of just a few bars and keeps feeding and churning along the arc of a song. In fact, you could feel emotionally drained after a full set of songs, testament that encoded sounds can and do carry very real power. Then there's clever instrumentation. On La Juderia, it sets Amir Shasar's wailing ney against her Flamenco warbling on "La Niña de las flores" or his Turkish clarinet to the gypsy number "Nací en Álamo". Greek gypsy Kostas Pavlidis contributes the song "Locura" to the accompaniment of oud, Spanish guitar and cajon. The Mercedes Sosa anthem "Gracias a la vida" gets the scorching Spaniard makeover and isn't the worse for it.
Romance & Yasmin opens with the famous "Noches, noches" which even turns up in George Dalaras' concert vocabulary. Violin, cello, oud, saz, kanun, flute, keyboards, bass and three percussionists make up the backing forces. "De edad de kinze anyos" mixes lithurgical overtones with a tsifeteli beat and Middle-Eastern fiddle while "Nani Nani" is a lullaby whose rendering here is more apt to wake up than put to sleep.
In short, Yasmin Levy is a major world music diva entering the global stage. She'll be big. True believers at this early juncture ought to really have both albums but if you will only risk one, start with La Juderia. Its Moorish setting adds spice and new vocal stylings to Yasmin's syntax for quite the cocktail. Drink up and see whether you won't ask for more.