Last Sunday evening, as part of their 12th Annual Spring Season, SFJazz presented Yasmin Levy, an Israeli vocalist whose specialty is Ladino- the music of Sephardic Jews, a label also referring to a distinct language and culture. Many of these songs are hundreds of years old, yet in Levy’s care they have a timelessness quality. If you like Portuguese Fado, Greek Rembetika, Robert Johnson or Roma music, you’ll recognize the same strains of sadness and yearning which permeates these songs.
In fact, the lyrics of the songs are often so sad Levy made sly jokes about them, introducing a Turskish song about love gone seriously wrong as “a happy song” and calling “La Hiji de Juan Simon” the saddest song ever (it very well may be). After a few songs, she began to translate the lyrics to the audience beforehand, which was helpful. It was especially poignant in explaining one of her original songs, “Una Noche Mas,” based on a woman friend of hers of a certain age whose younger lover abruptly leaves her for a younger woman. As the song concluded, the visibly pregnant Levy struck a profile pose under the spotlight, accenting her silhouette, lending the song an extra bitter bite at its conclusion.
An engaging, warm performer with a voice so strong she didn’t even really need a microphone in this house, Levy’s personal quest to keep this music alive is evident in everything she and her band of talented accompanists performed. The audience- one of the most internationally mixed I can recall- was enthralled from the beginning and she kept them firmly in her grasp throughout the entire concert. The U.S. portion of her tour concluded Tuesday, but there are a number of European gigs in the next three weeks. Check her website for dates and cities.
SFJazz’s12th Annual Spring Season is well underway and features a multitude of important singers and musicians from around the world. Next up for me is the sensational Jane Monheit this Thursday at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. If there’s something on their schedule you’re interested in, get tickets now- it was announced at the beginning of the show tickets sales are their best ever and Madeleine Peyroux’s show is now sold out. I don’t have a complete setlist, but among the songs performed were:
Nos Llego el Final
Naci en Alamo (Vengo)
Una Noche Mas
La Hiji de Juan Simon