Yasmin Levy / Moishe’s Bagel, GRCH, 18/1/11
Oh my goodness, I could get used to this business of sitting in front row seats to see fantastic, beautiful women singing in tongues I don’t understand. Yasmin Levy from Israel sings in Spanish and Ladino, that wistful, mongrel, dying language of the Jews evicted from Christian Spain in 1492 to wander the largely Muslim Ottoman Empire. And she does it superbly.
Her acoustic band easily recreate flamenco, coplas, moorish, middle eastern and latin backdrops, over which Levy’s towering vocals are capable of causing serious goosebumps and the occasional tear. Make no mistake: Levy is capable of ringing out every drop of emotion from the listener, a bit like two hour’s worth of Rebekah del Rio’s Spanish language version of “Crying” in “Mulholland Drive” that is capable of stopping hearts at fifty paces.
There are stunning interpretations of traditional Ladino and Sephardic songs, including “La Hija de Juan Simon”, about a village gravedigger who buries his own heartbroken daughter, which Levy describes as the “saddest song ever”. This version, stripped to the accompaniment of a single guitar, is even better than the album version from “Sentir”. “Adio Kerida”, from “Mano Suave”, is gorgeous too, and even has the typically buttoned-up and frosty GRCH audience singing along in Ladino.
She’s also capable of a few surprises. Fed up to the back teeth with soulless X-Factor type shouty-shouty versions of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”? Well, listening to her take on it is a breath of fresh air.
But she’s a talented writer in her own right, and songs like “Una Noche Mas” and “El Amor Contigo” demonstrate her ability to create beautiful music from found narratives.
Head to toe in black, tiny and perchink, gloriously pregnant, wearing a fabulous embroidered and bejewelled coat that would feature in a New Romantic’s wet dream, she is one of the most exotic creatures to grace the GRCH stage. What is also noticeable is her charm, frequently stepping away from centre stage to allow her band the spotlight. She also shares the stage with the support act, cracking Scottish klezmer band Moishe’s Bagel, melding one of her Ladino interpretations with one of their own compositions. And pianist Phil Alexander, who she met for the first time earlier that day, has what must be the considerable thrill of accompanying her on a few numbers. That speaks volumes for her generosity of spirit.
Despite the sadness of the songs and the frequent plaintiveness of her transcendent voice, I spent the whole concert grinning from ear to ear at the beauty of it all, a fact she sweetly thanked me for when, feeling like a teenage groupie, I re-bought “Mano Suave” after the show just so that I could ask for her autograph. Every inch the diva and not one jot of the attitude. Just lovely.