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Byron Shire
March 5, 2024

From Turkey with love via Israel

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Interview Mandy Nolan

Yasmin Levy, the extraordinary interpreter of Ladino music, returns to Australia with her brand-new CD, Libertad, a hand-picked international ensemble, and a slew of accolades from her previous release Sentir, highly acclaimed live concerts worldwide, as well as film appearances. She appears at the Star Court Theatre on Saturday.

Your music is such a mixture of sounds and cultures. What are your greatest influences for choosing a song?
I grew up listening to many different kinds of music; from Ladino to some of the oldest Turkish music; from Greek artists to Persian singers. I also enjoy both opera and classical music, as well as jazz. And in addition to mentioning the obvious, that I adore flamenco music, I must also mention French chansons. I am inspired by great singers; singers with big voices, who sing with great emotion; singers like Billie Holiday and Edith Piaf.

Tell us about your new CD. How does it differ from your previous albums?
For many years I dreamt of recording with Turkish strings, like the ones I grew up listening to by Orhan Gencebay and Ibrahim Tatlises. I also wanted to assimilate the Turkish sound together with that of Flamenco, and try to bring those worlds closer together. It is a unique sound that I don’t think has ever been tried. I chose carefully each and every song for this album, including some Ladino songs, but I wouldn’t call this a Ladino album. It is more an album of Yasmin the songwriter and composer.

Since your last visit to Australia you’ve had your first baby. How has this affected your songwriting?
People used to say to me that for sure, when I give birth, my songs will be happier. Well, I’m afraid that isn’t so! My lyrics and melodies are still sad, but the meaning of my singing, my life, my dreams, my happiness and sadness, it has all changed. Whatever I do now, I do for my son. I sing for myself, but I sing for him. I live for myself, but I live for him. He is the meaning of my life now.

You’ve worked for peace in the Middle East over a period of years. How do you see music assisting the goal of peace?
I sing songs from the time that Jews lived in peace with Muslims in Iberia and I believe it is still possible to work towards achieving that again in our time. I collaborate with musicians from all over the world as I believe in mutual respect and tolerance and that is my message both as a human being and as a musician. My dream is that if as musicians we can live with each other’s culture, influence, and style – then hopefully as people and even politicians there may be hope we can accept another point of view and another way of doing things.

What can we expect of your upcoming concert? Who’s in the band, and will there be local guest performers like last time?
I am very excited about the release of this album and the upcoming tour. Because of the demands of my recording schedule, I have not performed live much this past year, so I am very much looking forward to meeting my beautiful audience again and introducing my new songs to them. For now, I am still preparing the songs and live arrangements for the new tour. Then I will head to London to rehearse with my new band. This is a very exciting moment in my life. My new band will include a few musicians who played with me in Australia in 2008, assisted by some new additions. We will have a pianist/keyboardist with us this time and hope to possibly add some live strings for our Melbourne performance. Finally, we will have a guest winds player joining us from Byron Bay – Mr Avishai Bar Natan. We’re very excited about coming back to play for our Australian fans.

Show at 8pm.

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