Ladino Flamenco

March 2, 2005 - 1:06 AM by

The first time I heard Yasmin Levy sing La Juderia*(audio link), I was blown away. Her voice is so powerful and emotive that it nearly made me cry. Go ahead – listen, and you’ll see what I mean.

Sounds like Spanish, right? Actually, it’s Ladino, or Judaeo-Spanish – the language once spoken by Sephardic Jews throughout North Africa, Bulgaria, Turkey and Greece. Israelis often call it “Spanyolit,” or simply “Sfaradit” (Spanish). My friend Avi grew up speaking the language with his grandmother, whose family has lived in Jerusalem since a couple of centuries after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492. Today Ladino is a dying language, like Yiddish. Unlike Yiddish, however, it doesn’t even have a core of ultra-Orthodox people who speak the language to their children, as the hasidim do. The only place I’ve heard the language spoken in Tel Aviv is among the Turkish shopkeepers on Florentine Street – the ones who sell spices, dried fruits, nuts and bourekas.

Levy, a Jerusalemite whose parents came from Turkey, has done something incredible with traditional Ladino songs – with her voice and her musical arrangements, she has stripped them of their sentimentality and made them sound raw and immediate. This year she was nominated for a BBC3 “World Music Award,” and she is gradually gaining the international acclaim she deserves for her gorgeous musical interpretations.

You can buy Yasmin Levy’s CDs online. She performs frequently abroad, but her next performance will be in Israel on March 8 at Tzavta in Tel Aviv.

*The Lioness pointed out in an email that the name of the song should be spelled Juderia, not Jude Ria. Juderia means Jewish Quarter. (I once saw an old sign in the old city of Rhodes that said Juderia. The Jews of Rhodes were, of course, all deported by the Nazis during the German occupation of Greece).

(Cross-posted at ontheface.)


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