Meet Leat Sabbah: Prodigious Musician and Cellist

To the west of the Upper Galilee, Kibbutz Yehi’am rises high, embodying the ruins of an impressive fortress dating from the Crusader and Ottoman periods. Inside, virtuoso cellist Leat Sabbah barefoot performs her arrangement of the virtuoso Turkish piece “Atmaca” (falcon in Turkish) by Laço Tayfa.

“For me, Atmaca is about celebrating freedom of movement,” says Sabbah. Throughout the video, she mimics the movements of an eagle to mirror an unrelated human bird. As eagles are great travelers, Sabbah aims to elevate his music by playing in a historic location that also contextualizes his reference to the song’s Turkish heritage.

“I tried to pick up the Turkish style, harmony and approach. Then I added very western harmonies, which Turkey does a lot,” Sabbah says of his Atmaca remake.

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

Leat Sabbah, posing with her cello, January 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 Eastern harmonies, adding smooth R&B touches and silky vocals. Its cross-genre style offers a feast of melodies combined with classical, pop and Middle Eastern folk music.

She started playing the cello when she and her brother were 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 that was big enough to cover her. Around the age of 13 or 14, she decided she wanted to become a professional cellist.

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

We can say that his musical career carries a family tradition. His grandparents came from Poland in the late 1940s and they ended up setting up a music school in their house. Their house had many rooms, so her grandfather placed a piano in each room and invited teachers to come. They ran the music school all week because they didn’t have any buildings or restaurateurs yet – it was pretty much the beginning of the country yet.

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

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

His brother Marc Sabbah is also a famous chamber musician, teacher and viola soloist of the National Orchestra of Belgium.

What makes Leat unique is its approach – embracing and inclusive. “I haven’t seen anyone take influences from the Orient and mix them into a kind of classical repertoire,” she says. Even when classical music students study oriental music, they tend to immerse themselves in Mozart and the Turkish March, which don’t even come close to oriental harmonies.

Leat immigrated to Israel almost ten years 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 Radiohead’s classic songs. This cover is distinguished from all Radiohead covers by its original orchestration.

Cover of 'Atmaca', September 9, 2019. (Photo courtesy of Leat Sabbah)

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

She shares valuable information about the cello on her Youtube channel “Cello Tips”. She first shared them 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 people are thrilled to hear her advice.

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

Especially in these days when we consume everything very quickly, just browsing through singles, our ears crave quality, sophisticated music like Leat’s to feed our souls.

Sabah’s daily newsletter

Keep up to date with what is happening in Turkey, in its region and in the world.

You can unsubscribe anytime. By signing up, you agree to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.