Smadar Levi- Sderot Musician for Peace

Daughter of Sderot

By Roi Ben-Yehuda

Amidst the recent tensions in the Middle East, a voice for peace and unity has emerged. No, it is not the voice of a political leader, nor is it the voice of a grassroots movement; rather it is the euphonious and haunting voice of singer Smadar Levi.

A daughter of Sderot, the Israeli town adjacent to Gaza that is at the center of conflict in the region, Smadar has dedicated her musical career to recapturing and modernizing the spirit of what historians have called Convivencia: the coexistence and interchange of Jewish and Muslim cultures.

Smadar’s music is best described by her as "rhythmic Mediterranean music peppered with a gypsy sound." A polyglot herself, Smadar sings in Arabic (Tunisian, Moroccan, and Egyptian), Hebrew, Greek, Spanish, and Ladino (Judo-Spanish). Her music is a blend of original and modern renditions of traditional songs.

Smadar was born of Moroccan-Tunisian linage, and some of her earliest memories include dancing to the mesmerizing pulse of the Middle Eastern drum, and listening with her father to classical Arabic music. "My main source of inspiration came from my parents," she says, "my father would play darbuka and sing, and I would join in front of family and guests. There was always Arabic music playing at home.  My house was filled with the sweet sounds of Farid el-atrash, Um Kultum, and Abdel-u-hab.

After her Army service in Israel, Smadar traveled around the world, picking up sounds and studying with various musicians. In 2000, she began working on her own project in New York City. “When I came back from traveling around the world, I had a vision of what I wanted to create. I wanted a band made up of members from different parts of the Middle East.  I searched for them all over New York City. I listened to many incredible musicians, and I shared with them my vision and sound.  I was happy that many of them were attracted to what I had in mind.”

After searching high and low for the best musicians from the Middle East, Smadar assembled an all-star international band.  “I was able to put together a fantastic band made up of Israelis, Turks, Lebanese, and Arabs.  Today, our music is rhythmic Mediterranean peppered with a Gypsy sound.  We try to remain tied to our Mediterranean roots, without religious or national boundaries.”

In 2004, Smadar recorded her debut album entitled “Smadar” to much underground buzz.  The CD featured both traditional and original scores.  The work was produced by Shay Bacher (Alabina and Greg Wall) and Tamir Muscat from the band Balkan Beatbox. The first song on the CD “Ghali Ya Bouy” (My Father) was recently selected to be featured on the upcoming international compilation Rough Guide to Belly Dance (World Music Network). Smadar’s song will be featured alongside such giants as Omar Farouk and Natacha Atlas.

While Smadar strongly believes that music and art ought to transcend politics, she nevertheless acknowledges the political nature of her music and performance.  "The content of my lyrics are not necessarily political – I sing about the great themes of unity and exile.  Of love won and love lost.  But I suppose that the sum total of what I represent: my presence, my appearance, lyrics, the multi ethnic makeup of my band, and the fact that I am girl from Sderot who sings in Arabic and Hebrew, all point to a political statement”

This insight has not escaped many people who have heard Smadar’s music. In February, the internationally renowned nonprofit organization Seeds of Peace honored Smadar with an award for "uniting cultures to achieve peace through music."  The award was given to her at a gala in which she performed along with three-time Grammy winner John Legend for the organization.

Rebecca Hankin, Director of Communications for Seeds of peace, said, "Smadar's show was a musical and visual representation of what Seeds of Peace stands for.  An Israeli playing alongside Arab and Jewish musicians  A beautiful sight and a beautiful sound." 

Most recently Smadar finished recording the vocals for the 9/11 movie “Narrow Gate”.

"Smadar’s expertise was what we were looking for", says Bill Lacey the film’s composer. "Her voice conveyed the desired emotional depth and content that the movie needed."

Today, Smadar is hard at work preparing to record her second album. This project promises to further showcase Smadar’s musical vision, vocal range, and song writing abilities. “Fundamentally I am about the opening of the heart.  If my music can reach people, unite people, show them a different type of coexistence between Jews and Arabs, then I will be fulfilled as an artist and as a human being.”

Smadar Levi Web site (and Music)


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