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Smitten by The Levins - My Friend, Hafiz

CD Review ~ Ira and Julia Levin ~

May 23, 2013

Kimmy Sophia Brown

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 and Julia LevinIra’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 passionate.

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 lyric:

We’re all renting rooms in this house.
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.”

 Ladinsky wrote:

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 mind?

 Ladinsky:

What is the esoteric secret to slay the crazed one whom each of us did wed?

 The Levins:

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:

All I want to do is empty my emerald filled pockets on this tear stained world for you.

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.

Kimmy Sophia Brown has loved humor and music and freedom for as long as she can remember. She is especially passionate about the environment and caring for animals.

She writes the column "From the Back Porch" as well as reviews of music in her column "MusicViews". Her goal in her music reviews is to introduce music she loves to people who may not have heard that particular artist or CD. For information about how to submit a CD for review, click here.


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