From the opening notes of the first track, “Dropping Keys”,
I felt a high spirit similar to the sound of the musical duo, Seals and Crofts.
A world-music feeling is present too, with the use of percussion, flute,
strings, and an overall emotionality. The vocals and arrangements joyfully
bring alive the glorious lines of the Sufi poet, Hafiz.
The songs are inspired by the book, The Gift – Poems by
Hafiz, The Great Sufi Master, translated by Daniel Ladinsky. My heart leapt
when I received this CD in the mail because my husband and I love the book too.
Ira’s voice is full of sweetness when he sings, “After all
this time, the sun never says to the earth, you owe me.”
Julia Bordenaro Levin’s voice has a soaring, supportive
quality. Her tone is both gentle and strong; her harmonies are soothing and
Some people have criticized Daniel Ladinsky’s translations
of Hafiz, because they were translated more in the spirit of the poems, rather
than into literal translations. The songs use a similar tack, in that they take
phrases or ideas from the poems, and expand them into songs. This involves
adding verses or words that were not in the original Ladinsky verses.
I have no problem with that, because the message of these
songs is the message of love – loving God, the universe, and others in a wide,
openhearted way. Even if I had never known the poems of Hafiz, I would have
liked this album anyway. Ira and Julia use a gift of alchemy to bring the
poetry of Hafiz into musical incarnation. It is obvious that the Levins spent a
long time choosing which poems to set to music, then worked with melodies and
words, striving to preserve as much of the original text as possible, but using
a bit of poetic license for the sake of continuity.
Here’s an example of the slight changes, in the song, “Your
Mother and My Mother.”
Ladinsky’s Hafiz poem starts like this:
Fear is the cheapest room in the
house. I would like to see you living in better conditions.
The Levins changed it slightly to accommodate rhyme in the
We’re all renting rooms in this
Fear is the cheapest one here.
I would like to see you in a room
in this house,
one with a little more cheer.
Another example is from the song, “Act Great.”
What is the key to untie the knot
of your mind’s suffering?
The Levin’s tweaked it a little:
What is the key to unlock your
What is the esoteric secret to slay
the crazed one whom each of us did wed?
What is the secret to silence the
madness that tramples the landscape, the heart’s tender bliss?
Each song tells a tale of insight into the relationship
between God and humanity. One of my favorite poems of Hafiz is “Like A Life Giving
Sun.” This song asks, “What if you and prayer became sweet lovers?” The Levins’
arrangement has a Middle Eastern feel.
The song, “Old Sweet Beggar,” makes me want to cry – a
lovely melody interpreting the sentiment expressed in this line from the poem:
want to do is empty my emerald filled pockets on this tear stained world for
The album is a beautiful testament to Hafiz, and a wonderful
achievement on its own. The Levins have done a great service to Hafiz as well
as to their listeners. I think it will resonate especially with baby boomers
because the music is rooted in a style familiar to us. Great job, to Ira and Julia. I absolutely love this album and I can’t wait for
the next one. (There's gotta be a next one, there are so many poems!) You can see more about this project and others, at their website: thelevinsmusic.com.
Press photo from
the Levins’ website.