Tuesday, 17 May 2022
BusinessMeet Leat Sabbah: Prodigious musician and cellist

Meet Leat Sabbah: Prodigious musician and cellist

On the western Upper Galilee Kibbutz Yehi’am stands high embodying the ruins of an impressive fortress dating back to the Crusader and Ottoman periods. Inside, virtuoso cellist Leat Sabbah is playing her arrangement of the Turkish virtuoso piece “Atmaca” (Turkish for hawk) by Laço Tayfa barefoot.

“Atmaca for me is about celebrating the freedom of movement,” says Sabbah. Throughout the video, she mimics the movements of an eagle to reflect a bondless human bird. As eagles are high flyers, Sabbah to elevate her music by playing in a historical place which also contextualizes her reference to the Turkish heritage of the song.

“I tried to pick up on the Turkish style, harmony, and approach. Afterward, I added in very Western harmonies, which Turkey does a lot of,” says Sabbah on her Atmaca remake.

Laço Tayfa, founded by eight musicians first made a name with the album “In the Buzzbag,” which they recorded together with “Brooklyn Funk Essentials.” The band combines traditional forms of Turkish music with Western forms such as jazz, funk, and reggae.

Leat Sabbah, posing with her cello, Jan. 26, 2020. (Photo courtesy of Leat Sabbah)

Sabbah studied at the Manhattan School of Music and her music can be described as unique, blending Western harmonies with oriental ones, adding smooth R&B touches and silky vocals. Her cross-genre style offers a feast of melodies combined with classical, pop, and middle eastern folk music.

She started playing cello when she along with her brother was taken to a local music school by their mother to see a children’s orchestra. As a shy young girl, she felt comfortable hiding behind the cello which was big enough to cover her. When she was around 13 or 14 years old, she decided that she wanted to become a professional cellist.

Her accent as a classical cellist is present in her music in terms of sound and approach to the instrument. “I loved everything about making music, especially making music with other people,” she adds.

One can say that her musical journey carries a family tradition. Her grandparents came from Poland in the late 40s and they ended up establishing a music school inside their house. Their house had many rooms, so her grandfather placed a piano in each room and invited teachers to come. They would run the music school all week because they didn’t have buildings and conservators yet – it was pretty much still the beginning of the country.

Leat Sabbah, posing with her cello, Jan.  26, 2020. (Photo courtesy of Leat Sabbah)
Leat Sabbah, posing with her cello, Jan. 26, 2020. (Photo courtesy of Leat Sabbah)

Her brother Marc Sabbah is also a famous chamber musician, professor, and viola soloist of the Belgian National Orchestra.

What makes Leat unique is her approach – embracing and inclusive. “I haven’t seen anybody taking influences of the East and mixing them into a sort of a little bit of a classical repertoire kind of thing,” she says. Even when classical music students study Eastern music, there is an inclination to delve into the likes of Mozart and Turkish March, which don’t even come close to the Eastern harmonies.

Leat immigrated to Israel nearly a decade ago and soon found herself playing in the best projects of the Israeli world music scene: Shye Ben-Tzur, Gulaza (WOMEX 2018), Mark Eliyahu and Piris Eliyahu Ensemble. Sabbah can also be seen in the viral cover of Pakistani Shefita’s “Karma Police” one of the classic songs of Radiohead. This cover differs from all Radiohead covers with its original orchestration.

Cover of 'Atmaca,' Sept.  9, 2019. (Photo courtesy of Leat Sabbah)
Cover of “Atmaca,” Sept. 9, 2019. (Photo courtesy of Leat Sabbah)

She shares valuable information on playing the cello on her Youtube channel “Cello Tips.” She first shared these on Facebook cello groups and received a lot of appreciation. She says she teaches people other ways to approach their instrument through social media and she can see that people get excited on hearing her tips.

After “Atmaca,” she released the “Let It Rain” cover, a famous American spiritual song reflecting her Moroccan and American heritages.

Especially in these days where we consume everything really quickly, just rolling through singles, our ears need such quality and sophisticated music like Leat’s to nurture our souls.

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