REVIEW: Yasmin Levy

To the gentle strumming of the guitar and the strains of the flute, Yasmin Levy, dressed in black and the ever enticing enchantress, cast a spell on the audience with her tremor-filled “La Serena”. It was just a start.

Firstly,a lil more about the Ladino music that Yasmin Levy sings. In her rendition, she maintains the original lyrics and melody of the  songs (some of them nearly 500 years old), but changes the rhythm to a Flamenco style. She also mixes Turkish, Egyptian and other Middle-eastern music in her own Spanish compositons and the result is unbelievably beautiful.

To understand the Ladino songs better, we would have to delve a little into the Ladino culture.  In 1492,in an attempt to flush the land of all non-christians, the Catholic rulers, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella issued a decree that all Jews, Gypsies and Moors (a population of Muslim peoples from Northern Africa who conquered the lands of Spain and Portugal in 711 CE) living in the Spanish kingdom were either to convert to the Catholic faith or leave the country. Thousands of Jews were exiled from their homes, and in the years that followed these Jews settled in other parts of Europe, Northern Africa, and the Middle East (see the map of Jewish Migration).

The Jews from the Iberian peninsula carried their language with them and settled in the Ottoman empire. They became known as the Sephardic Jews and their language became known as Ladino.

It is no wonder that the Ladino songs are mostly about longing, love, desperation, passion and of course hope. These songs, handed down from generation to generation by mother to daughter and father to son, survived purely by word of mouth. They are based on simple themes from everyday life- like a mean mother-in-law or the unrequited love of a heartless lover. To those persecuted Jews, stripped of their lands and property and enslaved by new rulers, music must have been the only means to give vent to their melancholy, solitude, frustration and the occasional happiness.  The wailing laments in the songs show this pain clearly. What is common in all these songs is the singer’s candid admission of his/her true feelings. It is such a contrast to the norm of the sophisticated upper class where emotions are best hidden and there are euphemisms, innuendos and a tendency to be emotionally aloof.

Coming back to the performance, Yasmin Levy is of those singers who have a “heart” voice- she sings with such feeling in her songs that you don’t need to know to language to appreciate the pathos or empathise for the loss. Be it the complex rhythmic phrasing or the slow vibratos, she  modulates her voice so perfectly to bring out the right emotion. She is a brilliantly talented singer with a deep soulful and sensuous voice. It just doesn’t get better than that. Period.

She was accompanied on the percussion by Ishay Amir, her husband, who kept perfect rhythm.  For some songs like the haunting “Mano Suave”, he played the darbouka (see pic below), a drum that is often used in music for belly dancing.

I was so thrilled by the Armenian Vardan Havanissian who played the wind instruments flute,clarinet and zurna (see pic below).

I thought was very similar to an Indian musical instrument called the nadaswaram (albeit a shorter version of it). He was just superb. His smooth flowing style with the ornamentation and variations was out of the world.

On the electric upright bass was Miles Danso from Ghana. The bass melded so well into the songs.  On guitar was Yechiel Hasson, a master of Flamenco style.  There were songs which had Ms Levy singing with only the guitar to accompany her. Both the artists’ amazing talents could be seen  in those duets.

Unlike in Western music where ensembles play with sheet music, in this kind of music the musicians just play by memory. This is definitely harder as it needs perfect co-ordination. But this kind of setting leaves so much of room for improvisation and encourages spontaneity based on the mood of the audience and that was what we saw in the performance.

One perfect example of the amalgamation of Falmenco and Ladino was “Noches Noches”. The Flamenco genre’s staccato clap punctuating a vocal line was shown so beautifully in this one. It is such an evocative song.

“Una Ora” had Arabic music elements and would have been a great one for belly dancing, as would have been the funny song, “Mi suegra la negra”(The mean mother-in-law). You can imagine a newly-wed daughter-in-law singing this to herself, gritting her teeth, as she is doing some chores for her mother-in-law instead of being with her husband. Here’s a translation of the lyrics. Ms. Levy also showed some of her Flamenco moves here.

“My mother-in-law the evil one

Takes revenge on me.

I can no longer live with her.

She is stronger than death itself.

Soon I shall get rid her.”

The old cantina, “Adio Kerida” (Farewell,my love) was so beautiful. She had the audience singing to it. It might as well have been an metaphorical ode sung by a Jew to his native land.

My favorite of the evening was “la Alegria”. Contrary to its name (which means “happiness”), the song is about a woman who is pining for her love. It is so sad that it churns your insides and leaves you with a deep disgust for that imaginary cruel lover. The whooshing sound of the bass in this is so moving.

Yasmin Levy’s own compositions “Una Noches Mas” (a very slow moving number) and “El Amor Contigo” (a fast paced flamenco style song) were also about love. The Ladino style could be seen in her compositions as well.

That Yasmin Levy brings together musicians from so many different countries and different faiths is a testimonial to the respect the musical world has for her. May her efforts to bring people together with music bear fruits.

I was not the only one to have fallen for her music. There was an encore and Yasmin ended with a really sad Spanish song. As I was heading out, I overheard someone say, “That wasn’t fair. The last song only left me yearning for more. Wished she had sang some more.”  Sigh, sigh, I defintely agree.

Krithika, [art]seen reviewer

Krithika likes to jump in puddles of water, especially when a person wearing all white walks past by

PREVIEW: Yasmin Levy

Artist: Yasmin Levy

Saturday, November 14, 8 pm
Hill Auditorium

Tickets available at the Michigan League Office or at the box office before the performance.

This saturday night, it is time to awaken that latent gypsy spirit in you and head to the Hill auditorium. Yasmin Levy is going to be in town and she will take you on a musical journey with some Ladino music. Yup, folks, it is not a typo and it is Ladino, the language of the Sephardic Jews who were driven out of Spain in the late 15th century and who settled in Israel. These jews carried the music of  Andalusia with them and as they stayed in their new home in the Middle East, their music imbibed from the different  traditions and took its own unique form. Yasmin Levy, touted as World Music’s next Superstar,  is one of the few exponents of Ladino music.

With such good looks and a great powerful voice, Yasmin could have been a pop star. But she chose to help preserve Ladino music as a tribute to her father.  Her father, Isaac Levy, is considered as a pioneer researcher into the long and rich history of the music and culture of Spanish Jews and its diaspora. How he got  into that is interesting. One day,  Isaac Levy listened to his mother singing a Ladino song and decided to note the lyrics and the melody down. He felt that these songs were such an important part of his heritage that needed to be preserved. He then went around in the neighbourhood and started collecting songs and soon had enough to publish four books on them . But sadly, unfortunately for Yasmin, he died when she was only two. Yasmin’s mother, an accomplished singer, carried on her husband’s legacy, by performing these songs at concerts. Yasmin joined her in her teens.

Soon, her raw power-packed voice demanded its own stage and Yasmin went solo. She performs with such a deep raw passion that reminds us of the indomitable spirit of  her ancestors. (Check her out on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_rmK99BZsKo&feature=related)

Traditional Ladino music is similar to Portuguese fado and Spanish flamenco in its deep-throated soulfulness and acoustic-guitar flourishes.  In the haunting voice of Levy, the odes pull at your heartstrings. Do come dressed in your most vibrant bohemian clothes and sample it for yourself.

Yours truly, Krithika, art[seen] reviewer.

Krithika likes to tap dance while waiting for the Blue bus.

Preview: Figaro Figaro Figaro, That’s All I Know

The Marriage of Figaro, an Opera to remember. I don’t care if it’s in another language, I am going to see it! The music was composed by Mozart! Now you have to go see it! The play was written by Lorenzo da Ponte and is now being revived by the University of Michigan’s aspiring talents. I was invited by a fantastic talent Nick Ward, who will be giving an exclusive inside look of the life of a voice performer. As one of the most famous operas in the world, The Marriage of Figaro, or La Nozze Di Figaro, is sure to be one of the most fantastic events of the year.

The performances are this Thursday through Sunday, Nov 12-15 at 7:30 pm, except on Sunday the show starts at 2:00 pm. It’s at the Power Center for the Performing Arts and is most definitely going to put us through a wild surge of Italian Drama and Romance. Don’t forget to get tickets at one of the Union Box offices. Only $9!

The general description of the opera, per Facebook Event, is “The Story: Count Almaviva’s valet Figaro is looking forward to his imminent wedding with the beautiful Susanna. Unfortunately, his lascivious employer is also intent on bedding the young chambermaid. Aware of the Count’s intentions, the Countess, with Susanna’s help, intends to teach her husband a lesson on the dangers of infidelity. Add in a love-sick teenager who causes unexpected confusion and hilarity abounds as multiple love interests vie for the perfect pairing. Through subtle intrigue, scintillating sexual games, and mistaken identities, Figaro and Susanna must outmaneuver and outwit the entire household to end up finally in each other’s arms.
Artistic Significance: Called “the world’s most perfect opera,” The Marriage of Figaro has delighted audiences since its premiere in 1786. The first collaboration between Mozart and librettist da Ponte, Figaro is the successful sequel to The Barber of Seville. Da Ponte’s witty libretto melds humor with humanity and is paired with Mozart’s groundbreaking score in a true marriage of music and drama. From the instantly recognizable overture to the rousing ensemble finale, the opera is filled with one brilliant melody after another. A celebrated operatic tour de force, The Marriage of Figaro sparkles with genius.

For more information, join the Facebook Event or visit a Union Box Office. The show has English subtitles for those of us who don’t speak Italian, so most of us. Everyone should definitely attend at least one performance, if not two, just to immerse yourself in culture and trying something new.
As always, this is Danny Fob: Artist and Art Reviewer

PREVIEW: IASA Cultural Show – Vistaara, an Eternal Progression

When: November 13, 2009 7pm

Where: Hill Auditorium

Tickets: $12, $16, $20 (plus a $2 service charge) sold at MUTO, which is in the basement of the Union. For the truly lazy or last minute people, tickets can be bought online at ticketmaster.com.

Vistaara, which means progression/development in Sanskrit, is the official name of the 2009 IASA cultural show. With “time” as the theme, this performance hopes to show ways the different styles of Indian dance and culture have evolved over time. Choreographed by 22 student choreographers, the program consists of 10 different dances:

Bollywood
Gypsy
Classical
Bhangra
All Girls Progression
Raas
Fashion Show
South Indian
Mens Tribal
Village

For a detailed description of the dances, see http://www.umiasatest.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&layout=blog&id=14&Itemid=142. With 250 performers and 4,000 people in the audience, the IASA cultural show is the largest student run cultural show in America. And all of the proceeds from the show will go to Pratham, a charity devoted to eliminating illiteracy and ensuring that poor children in India receive an education.

PREVIEW: The Boondock Saints II – All Saints Day

Poster for The Boondock Saints II - All Saints Day
Poster for The Boondock Saints II - All Saints Day

The original Boondock Saints film, released in 1999, had a very short run in theaters and received poor reviews from film critics. Because of this it grossed less than half a million in world-wide theatre, yet it made $50 million in US home video sales revenue. It gained a large cult following through word of mouth publicity, making it a hit DVD bestseller.

I personally caught on the Boondock Saints train just a few years back. I loved the acting, the great quotes, and the ridiculously improbably storyline. It was an awesome action-film and the fact that it was a little-known film made it even more cool for me. I told all my friends about it, but you know how that usually goes. “Oh, yeah, I’ll check it out sometime. Nice, dude.” “No, seeeeriously, you have to see this movie!” “Definitely dude, we’ll watch it sometime.” It never happens, and didn’t with The Boondock Saints, either. I mostly shared my favorite quotes and minutes of non-stop laughter with my brother.

As much as I absolutely loved the original, I had no heads up about the sequel coming out! I heard about speculations when I saw the first movie, but never followed up on it, and it was only two Fridays ago that I saw a trailer while eating in West Quad dining. I flipped out and looked for a place to watch it ASAP, but was disappointed to find out that it is also only getting a limited release. I don’t think anyplace in the state of Michigan is playing it… Except State Theatre. Once. Tomorrow at 7:30PM. For free. I just found out today and I’m so excited to watch it! I’m slightly worried that I might not get the chance if enough people get there before me, but I’m gonna try my best–try yours, too!

It’s hard to explain exactly what the movie is about, but it’s basically two Irish-Catholic brothers that are vigilantes against the scum on the streets of Boston. And they’re bad to the bone. If you enjoy  catchy lines, awesome action, and have some free time, I definitely suggest checking it out. Check out the trailer to get a better idea of what part deux will be about. If you have time before tomorrow, I suggest watching the original, too! So far the film has a 7.4/10 on IMDB and an 84% approval rating by the Rotten Tomatoes Community.

“Catch ya on the flip side” 😉
Bhaj

Review: Ghostface Wears A Different Hat

Wrong In So Many Ways
Wrong In So Many Ways

Baseball season is over.  For the Red Sox, it was over one month ago today, the Red Sox were exposed as the subpar franchise that they are in a season-ending sweep by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.  Although largely unchanged from championship teams of years past, this Red Sox team lost the talent and the spark of other years- while gaining a steroids scandal (in David Ortiz) and a washed up relief man (in Billy Wagner).  So, while Dustin Pedroia and Jon Lester munched Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, watched The Notebook, and cried themselves to sleep, the New York Yankees of New York, New York rampaged their way through the World Series.  They finished off the defending World-Series Champion Phillies in six games, never really giving them any hope.

So, I ask, why was Ghostface Killah sporting a green and red Boston Red Sox New Era cap at his Blind Pig performance on Monday night?  Ghostface Killah, man of the Stapleton housing projects of Staten Island, NY.  Take the Staten Island Ferry to the 4 train to Yankee Stadium.   Or, if you have to, even take the Staten Island Ferry to the 1 train to the 7 train to Shea Stadium (or the new Citi Field).  But, come on Ghost, you have to paddle across the river Styx to get to Fenway Park.

Although my barber, Bob, has explained to me on multiple occasions that the handshake and first 20 seconds of meeting someone new is the most important part of a good relationship, Ghostface quickly redeemed his horrendous first impression.  At 39 years old and over 15 years after the Wu-Tang Clan debut, Ghostface still has an intense and demanding stage presence.  Perhaps he is no longer the perpetually high, in your face, attention grabber of the 90’s, but as hip hop has grown, so has Ghost.  He still coaxed the audience to scream in support of their love of weed and conducted a vote of the crowd’s alcohol preference: Hennessey vs. Grey Goose.  But that doesn’t seem to be Ghostface’s gimmick anymore.  He still holds the crowd with his intricate word plays and boasting banter but he no longer seems to need to hold a blunt to connect with his audience.  With the tracks from the new album, he has also let some catchy hooks grab the audience as well.

Despite a bit of a persona change from Ghostface, the crowd remembered exactly who he is.  He could (and on a few occasions did) let the beat drop and let the sweat-soaked, cigarette-drenched crowd do his bidding, reciting every line to his fast paced stories.  He commanded an even greater response for the Wu-Tang hits (including “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nothing To Fuck With” and “C.R.E.A.M.”.

Not that Ghostface has never been sentimental – because he has- but it marks a different path when his best-known song is a track about his love for his pregnant girlfriend, complete with a light-hearted R&B loop.  As was apparent by his on-stage demeanor and set choice, Ghostface is content with the maturing of hip hop, the development of the Wu-Tang Clan, and his own, highly regarded status.

(Also, in my concert-going experience openers are generally not worth mentioning.  However, worth mentioning is local local, DJ Chill Will was on the ones and twos in between sets.  Chill Will has a show called The Prop Shop every Saturday night from 9pm-midnight on 88.3 WCBN– a show that I would very highly recommend to any dabbler in the art of hip hop)