FOR Israeli singer-songwriter Yasmin Levy, singing isn’t just a talent, but an expression of her emotions and life experiences.
After sold-out shows during her previous tour, Levy is back in Australia this month for a concert tour and to promote the unique Judeo-Spanish sounds of her newest album, Libertad.
She is also one of the headline acts at the Australasian Worldwide Music Expo (AWME) in Melbourne.
Libertad, which means freedom in Spanish, is Levy’s fifth album and features an array of self-composed songs as well as cover versions of tunes that are close to her heart.
The 36-year-old grew up in Jerusalem’s musical melting pot, listening to a variety of sounds including Persian, Turkish, Egyptian, Spanish and jazz, which has influenced her own singing.
Levy says the style of her newest album is a manifestation of her personal identity.
“Because my roots are both Spanish and Turkish, with this album my dream was to bring those cultures together to create a new flavour … the combination between the Turkish strings and flamenco music has never been done before,” she explains.
“Also, as in previous albums, you can hear Persian, Cuban and Arabic sounds – it’s a party of everything.”
Levy admits that Libertad was the hardest album to produce because of its emotional subject matter.
“I used to believe that songs should just be beautiful and about something you love, but with this album my producer encouraged me to make every song tell the audience about who I am, and what I want to express,” explains Levy.
“Every song has meaning, like the last song on the album, La Rose Enflorence, I wrote when I was down and going through a difficult time. It’s like a farewell song to my audience because I thought I’d never sing again, and Olvidate de Mi is about my aunt who passed away.
“I always write about things that happen to me, but I can only compose when I’m sad.”
Other songs on the album, such as Levy’s take on the Persian classic Recuerdo and her cover of one of the pearls of Turkish music, Firuze, come with tales of her upbringing, experiences and passions.
“I grew up listening to Recuerdo and then I lost the cassette, so for 27 years I was asking Persians if they knew the song from the one line I remembered of it, which no-one did, until I was in London recording my third album and a Persian taxi driver knew it and brought me a copy of it.”
Yasmin’s music philosophy contains an intrinsic belief and hope that cultures can peacefully and positively coexist, which was recognised by the Anna Lindh award that she was presented with in 2006 for promoting cross-cultural dialogue through her work with multicultural musicians and connection with Spain’s history.
The song Olvidate de Mi on Libertad is one example of Levy’s broad cultural philosophy because it features Concha Buika, an African woman who she met in Poland.
Four years ago, Levy was also appointed a Children of Peace goodwill ambassador, which is an English charity that aids children caught up in the ongoing Middle East crisis.
After 10 hectic years of composing and singing, Levy is still passionate about her work.
“Each album and song is a reflection of who, what and where I am in my life at the time and with this new project, I felt totally free in every aspect,” she says.
Despite a busy family life, with a one-year-old son and husband Ishay Amir, who is also her record label manager and percussionist, Levy infuses every aspect of her life with energy and enthusiasm.
“This is my life; we’re a musical family and our life is music. I don’t separate them. My son has been travelling with us since he was two months old and I used to think that maybe I ruined his life because a musician’s life is unstable and abnormal,” she says.
“But when I see him sitting with my husband and the musicians surrounded by love and music, I realise this is the best life I can give him.”
As Levy looks towards the future with no end in sight for her singing career, she sees plenty of opportunities for improvement and change.
“As I grow with the years, it just gets better, because when you’re young you show off, but with the years I’m trying to impress less and you learn so much from life’s experiences.
“It all becomes part of you … and things that were important in the past are less so now.
“I see myself singing at 80, sitting on stage as a fat woman with wine and a cigarette, just singing about my life, even though the audience may be as old as I am,” she laughs.
Yasmin Levy is performing at the Factory Theatre, Marrickville, Sydney on November 17 and at the Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne on Sunday, November 18.
REPORT by Cassilee Kahn
PHOTO of Israeli singer Yasmin Levy