MOR KARBASI
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MOR KARBASI

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"fRoots Magazine - April 2008"

The Beauty and the Sea

Recently featured in our March issue, she was an intriguing discovery of last year through MySpace.

Now this mesmerising debut album deserves to give London-based Israeli singer Mor Karbasi one of the world music hits of 2008.

Karbasi has an incredibly flexible voice, made the more impressive by the fact that she sings in quite a high range. She’s able to effortlessly switch from a breathy intimacy to that hard edged, intense open throated style that first hooked us on Bulgarian singers – particularly on the astonishing traditional Ladino Mansevo Del Dor (I Am A Modern Young Man) – pulling you deep into songs, taking the senses and emotions on an addictive roller coaster.

That would be enough, but equally masterful are the subtle arrangements and production by her partner, guitarist Joe Taylor, and Matt Howe. There’s a lot going on in some tracks – multiple acoustic and electric guitars, oud, mandolin, bass and more from Taylor himself, plus an international cast – European, Indian, Middle Eastern – of noted players of strings, percussion, woodwinds, and harmonium and harpsichord from Mor herself. It would have been very easy for this to have ended up as overblown and pompous, swamping the songs, but the opposite is the case: subtlety, texture, taste (but not the held-back variety), always supporting, surrounding and lifting the voice and the songs, keeping them central. Every listen reveals new details, makes a different song jump out (like, on this listen, the almost Mexican Komo El Pasharo Ke Bola).

And then add a wonderful set of lyric translations, interwoven with a great story by her mother, Shoshana Karbasi, all in a beautiful little eco-friendly (no plastic!) digipak.

With Yasmin Levy’s recent superb form in the Ladino field, maybe these two complementary, different but equally talented singers will spark some kind of genre boom as brand leaders. As they say, one swallow doesn’t make a summer, but the coincidence of these two songbirds hints at heatwave.

www.mintakamusic.com;
distributed by New Note. - Ian Anderson


"The Financial Times - March 31 2008"

The Beauty And The Sea
****

You wait 500 years for a Ladino singer to mix medieval Sephardic songs with a twist of flamenco, and then two come along at once.

Following hard on the footsteps of Yasmin Levy comes the London-based Mor Karbasi.

Songs such as "Shechahoret", a traditional wedding song in Hebrew and Ladino, have the familiar Ladino swoops up and down the octaves; the modern songs, with music by Karbasi and her musical partner, Joe Taylor, and many with lyrics by Karbasi's mother Shoshana, are recognisably their descendants.

- David Honigmann


"fRoots Magazine - March 2008"

Feature article on Mor Karbasi
(see mintakamusic.com) - Elizabeth Kinder


"Jewish Chronicle - March 2007"

Feature article in the JC
(see mintakamusic.com) - Nick Johnstone


"Ladino's young flame, JC Apr 2008"

THE JC (Jewish Chronicle)
Friday 18 April 2008
By Lawrence Joffe


Ladino’s young flame

Mor Karbasi chooses to sing in a dying tongue — but her performance is powerfully life-affirming, says Lawrence Joffe

It was a chilly night at North Finchley’s Arts Depot last Sunday, but more than a few rays of Mediterranean sun shone through when singer Mor Karbasi took the stage. Alternating her dress from sombre black to bridal white, dark tendrils of hair tumbling down, Karbasi proved more than a chanteuse: she relived the heritage she was evoking, acted out poignant lyrics with unaffected passion, and revealed a nice touch of self-deprecation when the god of mics was clearly not smiling.

Mostly Karbasi sang in Ladino, that uniquely Jewish concoction of medieval Castillian with Hebrew, Arabic, Turkish and French. Somehow she breathed new life into an old language which embodies the highs and lows of Sephardi Jewish history, from the heyday of medieval Spain and expulsion of 1492 to the wanderings through North Africa, Ottoman Turkey and on to Amsterdam, London and Jerusalem.

Karbasi first heard Ladino five years ago — she is still only 21 — yet composes most of her music in the tongue. Clearly, Ladino strikes a deep chord with her. Born in Israel to a mother with Moroccan Sephardi roots and a father of Persian Jewish extraction, with a penchant for Queen and Led Zeppelin, Mor took to music like a duck to water. Classically trained on piano, for two years she sang professionally for a local flamenco ensemble, all the while listening to Moroccan piyuttim sang by her mother.

Karbasi has resisted the temptation of divadom despite being blessed with strikingly sensual looks. She acknowledges influences which show in hints of playful Yemenite intonations à la Ofra Haza, or the jazz sensibility of Achinoam Nini. What she writes, she says, blends the cultures, colours and sounds of “everything I inhaled” in Israel. Mostly, though, the melodies and words are her own.

The songs have a timeless feel, yet use an ancient template and re-fashion them in a new guise. Whether gentle, rousing or cheeky — as in the old favourite, Puncha Puncha (The Rose That Pricks) — the melodies are infused with Spanish gusto, syncopated Arabic rhythms and Jewish storytelling patterns.

Songs speak of everyday love and loss, jokes and lies, complaints, gentleness and gossip, dreams and hopes, the holy and the playfully profane. Her debut album, The Beauty and the Sea, released this month on the Mintaka Music label, features enticing layers of strings, Arabic oud and Middle Eastern motifs. Mor’s own composition, Fuego (Fire), closed with a fabulous Indian flute solo by a guest artist while sounding thoroughly at one with our 21st century.

By contrast, the traditional Mansevo del Dor suggested an exact replica of a 500-year-old medieval marketplace ditty, complete with its ululating chorus.

Throughout the concert — part of Arts Depot’s Olam Musica series showcasing the best in Jewish music — Karbasi was assisted by her talented multi-national ensemble: electric violinist Pascal Roggen; Uruguayan Andres Ticino on a miscellany of bells, boxes, drums and cymbals; and Karbasi’s partner, Joe Taylor, on electric and acoustic guitar. In a different incarnation, Taylor heads the English indie band, Blackbud.

The Karbasi band has only been playing publicly since last year, when they appeared at the Womad world-music festival. Their telepathy and ability to shift moods sounded effortless. And while the odd segue into progressive rock might need some fine-tuning, overall their lyricism and musical economy made for a rich listening experience. Karbasi’s sweet and wide-ranging voice provided a perfect counterfoil to some talented soloing.

She also draws on personal memories. In tribute to her grandfather, she wrote the charming En La Kaye de mi Chikez (In The Street Of My Childhood). Mor does not often sing in Hebrew, but when she does — as in Shecharhoret, about a portside girl tanned by the sun, or Be’enaim tsohakot (Laughing Eyes) — she sounds jaunty and life-affirming, redolent of classic Esther Ofakim.

Karbasi’s voice is sometimes charming and girlish, sometimes surprisingly loud and authoritative, yet never coy or overbearing. Ethereal songs about feathers, doves and roses abound, yet the emotions described are universal. One touchingly describes a mother speaking to her daughter before her wedding night. So it comes as no surprise that Karbasi’s own mother, Shoshana, wrote lyrics for several songs.

Karbasi boldly chose to end the concert with Judia, a song she composed after visiting Auschwitz. She wrote it as a tribute to the innocents murdered by Nazism, and as a reminder that so many Ladino-speaking Sephardi Jews from Salonika, Rhodes, Bulgaria and elsewhere perished in the Holocaust.

Yet the haunting whispered refrain, which began like an ethereal cry, altered during the course of the song almost into a voice of hope — a rare maturity over a difficult subject by someone only 21 years old.

Karbasi is currently touring Britain, so catch her if you can.

www.mintakamusic.com - THE JC (Jewish Chronicle)


"The Guardian, April 25 2008"

The Beauty and The Sea
Mintaka/New Note

Friday April 25, 2008
The Guardian
****

This album establishes the London-based Israeli singer Mor Karbasi as one of the great young divas of the global music scene, alongside the likes of Mariza or Yasmin Levy. Like Levy, she is an exponent of Ladino music, and the songs that survive from the late 15th century, when the Jewish and Muslim communities in Spain were expelled by the Christians. But Karbasi has her own, highly individual approach to the music, and she sounds as dramatic as she looks, switching effortlessly from songs that mix flamenco and North African influences, such as the opening track, Roza, through to old Ladino songs. Her voice is remarkable, mixing delicacy, power and control as she moves between rousing, harsh-edged songs and the spine-tingling subtlety of a quieter piece such as Nuestros Amores. Like many of the best new songs here, it was written by Karbasi herself, along with her impressive co-producer Joe Taylor, who also plays anything from guitar and bass to harmonium. This is surely one of the albums of the year.

- Robin Denselow


"Songlines, May 2008"

The Beauty And The Sea
Mintaka Recordings MINT003
Full Price
****

UPDATED BUT UNDILUTED

The music of Judaeo-Espagnol seems to be growing up. While Dganit Daddo’s new album The Ladino Voice (also reviewed in this issue) fuses a grab-bag of Sephardic standards with some of the least attractive elements of over-produced Europop, Mor Karbasi’s debut CD is equally eclectic but in a different league of invention, confidence and sensuality. Granted, it’s not strictly correct to describe it as a debut album – she has already produced a CD and an EP privately – but this is the London-based Jerusalemite’s first fully commercial venture and it shows great promise. Her material ranges from traditional classics like ‘Puncha Puncha’ to a variety of specially composed numbers that blend melodies from all corners of the Mediterranean with flamenco and Maghrebi vocal ornamentation.

The supporting musicians display a versatile command of a wide range of instruments, from oud (lute), Moroccan percussion and bansuri flute to electric guitars, acoustic strings, harpsichord, recorders and the occasional appearance of a harmonium. It ought to sound fussy but it’s actually relaxed and gently seductive. The flexibility of the cross rhythms is particularly appealing, with Joe Taylor’s Spanish guitar taking an authoritative lead. Taylor and the experienced producer Matt Howe are clearly the guiding spirits of the album, but it is Karbasi’s resonant voice that haunts the memory. She tours the UK throughout the spring and her wide-ranging repertoire is certainly worth catching live.

Highly recommended

- Dennis Marks


Discography

"The Beauty and the Sea"
Released 31st March 2008 (MINT003)
UK distribution: New Note on 44 (0) 1322 616050.
Ask your dealer to order from Pinnacle on 00 44 (0) 208 309 3926.
Mail order enquiries on 00 44 (0) 1233 334884 / musconnection@aol.com
Israel distribution: MCI
Also available on iTunes and Amazon

"Roza" (4 track EP)
Released July 2007 (Mintaka MINT002)

Photos

Bio

“Mor’s voice fills the room. Its got a range and fluid flexibility……. Its rich and warm with a finely delivered emotional intensity. The Beauty and the Sea is a remarkable debut.” fRoots March 2008

Described by London’s Jewish Chronicle as a purveyor of “Spine tingling Gypsy Music”, young London-based Israeli singer Mor Karbasi sings in Ladino, Spanish, Hebrew and on rarer occasions, English. Fortune has brought her a wonderful singing voice to add to her classically trained piano playing.

Not many songs still survive from 1492, when the Ladino speaking Jewish population in Spain fled the Inquisition - only the most beautiful are kept over such a period. Mor is bringing some of these songs back to a wider public. Her writing has been considerably assisted by her interesting lineage. She is directly descended from both Moroccan and Persian Jews. She has been and indeed is, an avid supporter of Flamenco which provides a strong flavour throughout all her songs. Her early musical performances were with Pena Flamenca in Jerusalem which immersed her in Flamenco while her mother, Shoshana Karbasi, played Moroccan piyyutim (liturgical poems) and sang Andalucian Jewish ballads at their home. She continues to be a constant influence on her young daughter.

This heritage already made for an inspirational Middle Eastern melting pot, when Mor met British guitarist Joe Taylor three years ago who is now an important element in the artistic offering which is Mor Karbasi.

Joe is a gifted guitar player already recognised as such by Andy Macdonald, founder and owner of Independiente – label to acts such as Tinariwen, Travis and Joe’s band Blackbud. The Times, as well, are converts, their David Sinclair referred to Joe’s group as “stunningly inventive” and to Joe Taylor as “a guitarist with a quicksilver touch, an encyclopaedic knowledge of chords ….and an outstanding command of rhythmic and harmonic nuance.”

“ Her songs are like a journey through her roots... traditional and modern at the same time, sincere, heartfelt and touching” SOAS.co.uk

“Exploring an ancient musical songline that starts in medieval Spain and carries through to North Africa , Southern Europe and Israel.” Jewish Chronicle

Mor’s group performed the first WOMAD at Charlton Park in 2007 and BBC Radio 3 World Routes immediately broadcast three of her tunes alongside an interview with Lucy Duran, who proclaimed “Fantastic”. She appeared at Trafalgar Square London in an open air festival on October 14 as part of SIMCHA and in November appeared at WOMAD in Las Palmas.

Her debut album released March 2008 with special guests Trilok Gurtu, Kai Eckhardt and Ronu Majumdar sown together by Grammy winning producer Matt Howe. Her 15 show British tour offers audiences as disparate as The South Bank (April 29), Wychwood Festival (31 May), Larmer Tree Festival (20 July) and WOMAD (25 July) the chance to see her. 3 US World Music Festivals are lined up in Chicago, Minnesota and New Mexico this summer with more dates in Europe this Autumn.

www.mintakamusic.com