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08 mars 2007

Yasmin brings Ladino to life

For Israeli singer Yasmin Levy, Womadelaide creates an atmosphere of "freedom, love and music" which is unique among festivals. It is her first visit to Australia, but the fifth WOMAD concert Yasmin has appeared at around the world since reviving the lost art of Ladino singing with her 2002 debut album. "There is something very special about WOMAD, because people come with open minds and open hearts," Levy, 31, said in Adelaide yesterday.

She will join more than 300 artists from 20 countries – including Nigerian singer-saxophonist Femi Kuti and Mali's Salif Keita – at Womadelaide in Botanic Park from tonight until Sunday. Yasmin was born in Jerusalem, surrounded by the Ladino songs of the Sephardi people – Jews who lived in Spain until they were exiled in the 15th century.

Her father Yitzhak Levy was a pioneering researcher of Ladino songs, which were passed orally from generation to generation. "He used to go from one Sephardi family to another with a big machine to record anyone who had anything to sing from this tradition," she says. "Then he wrote down the lyrics and the melody and saved those songs from dying, because the people he recorded have now passed away." Her father also died when Yasmin, the youngest of six children, was just a one-year-old.

"I never thought I was going to be a singer – I wanted to be a vet," she says. When she visited Spain at 17, a family friend discovered Levy could sing. It wasn't until she was 22, however, that she began to perform, introducing elements of Spanish flamenco to traditional Ladino songs. "I see myself like a butterfly that goes from one flower to another and gives those songs life," she says.

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