Review: Yasmin Levy brings Ladino music alive at the Straz Center in Tampa
The ancient songs of Ladino filled the walls of Ferguson Hall at the Straz Center on Thursday night. Center stage, under a single spotlight stood a very emotive and very pregnant Yasmin Levy. Her floor length brocade coat half masked her burgeoning belly while a black skin tight dress accentuated it.
Four multi-ethnic musicians donning red shirts formed a half circle behind her. There was a Spanish guitarist from Scotland; an upright double bass player from Ghana; a clarinetist from Armenia, who also played zurna and duduk; and a percussionist who sat atop a drum box with a drum set and bongo. After a bit of soft-spoken storytelling, Yasmin introduced him as her husband and father of her baby. That was who she was: Someone who shared her past, present and future onstage. Her deeply personal ways unraveled, not only through song, but in her historical explanations and behind-the-song anecdotes.
The show itself was simple: the beauty of song and music. Yasmin’s impeccable voice did not falter once, although her power, at times, felt restrained. She would pull the microphone away from the fuller notes when I wanted it to stay close so I could feel and hear the magic of her voice. Many times she referred to the sadness of her songs and voice; however, during this performance I sparsely heard it. Nothing like her studio cuts. Even in songs like Naci en Alamo and Una Noche Mas, I saw her smile. Her face was glowing. With life growing inside of her, I don’t think she could captivate and exude that bleak desperation as deeply as before. However, witnessing her duet with her deceased father via a 50-year-old recording proved a movingly intimate and serious moment. Her facial expressions conveyed the depth of what it meant.
The audience had a chance to sing with her, too. During Hallelujah, Yasmin asked them to sing the chorus, and during Adio Kerida, patrons learned and sang three Ladino verses.
My favorite parts were the “happy songs” that lent flamenco flairs, where Yasmin would throw in theatrics to an otherwise modest performance. Her hips swayed while her hands and fingers danced around tracing invisible circles. Her joy of performing was apparent. Her love of the audience, too, as she signed autographs and took photos after the show.
In the end, she received a standing ovation followed by shouts of, “Otro, otro.”
— Stephanie Bolling, tbt*