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When Yasmin Levy sings, you can hear the ancient Ladino songs echo through the centuries.
‘These songs are a result of a long journey, from Spain to Turkey to Israel ‘ you hear all those influences. That’s what makes them so special,’ Levy said.
But her mesmerising music is also very much of our times, thanks to the Israeli singer’s efforts to ‘make these beautiful songs approachable’, often through collaborations with other musicians.
‘These songs are from a time when Jews lived in peace with Moslems. I’m not going to change the world, I’m just me but I invite people to collaborate with me ‘ Iranians, Palestinians, Christians. It’s my way to show it’s possible to respect each other. We are all the same on stage.’

Born in Jerusalem in 1975, Levy was introduced to Ladino singing and culture by her father, Itzhak Levy, the leading figure in research and preservation of the Judeo-Spanish culture, dating back to 15th century Spain. When the Jews fled Spain in 1492, they took their rich culture, which Sephardi Jews have kept alive for nearly five centuries.

The Ladino songs, sung by mothers to their daughters around the home and by fathers to their sons at the synagogues, were passed on through generations. Levy’s reason for singing is to keep that tradition alive but says it is her father who has done the important work.
‘My father wrote down the lyrics and the music. He preserved those songs and saved hundreds of them from disappearing,’ she said.

The result is a large archive of songs about love, hope, desperation and longing for Jerusalem.
‘You can sing all your life and not manage to sing all of them. I always go to the saddest songs, the Turkish melodies, because of the scale of the notes (they are minor). I guess it’s my personality.’
Her mother is also an important part of Levy’s creative process. ‘We sit at the kitchen table making a rhythm on a pot and she sings the songs to me,’ she said.

Yasmin Levy and her 5-piece ensemble will perform at the Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House on Saturday, March 1. Book on 9250 7777.