Finely Crafted Ladino Songs

Sarah Aroeste - Gracia
Sarah Aroeste

Gracia (Aroeste Music, 2012)

Sarah Aroeste is another name to add to the increasing number of female Sephardic music singers. The American vocalist explores Ladino music in Gracia, introducing a mix of Mediterranean sounds, flamenco influences, pop and rock.

On Gracia, the classically trained Sarah Aroeste is joined by musicians from the USA, Israel, Morocco, Spain, Uruguay, Colombia and Russia. Together, they give new life to traditional wedding songs, love ballads, and also contribute new original material.

“It doesn’t matter that 99.99% of the world doesn’t understand Ladino,” Aroeste explains. “The themes are universal, the same themes people explore today: going off to war, unrequited love, crushes, death, family dynamics. The music has crossed geographic boundaries and political ones, and the songs are often very celebratory of women–and very sexy.”

“Too often, Ladino singers sing without really understanding the lyrics,” Aroeste contemplates. “They sing the music because of its undeniable value as a tradition we all want to preserve. But I think if more people took the time to really examine and dig into the lyrics, they might see a different, more complex and intellectual side of the music. That’s why our treatment of the songs on Gracia is extremely detailed, finely crafted, and layered: Each one really tells a complex story.”

Aroeste grew up in New Jersey, aware of a Spanish connection. “I remember visiting my great uncles and grandparents in Florida when I was five or so,” Aroeste recalls. “I was sitting in the front seat of one of their cars and playing around with the preset radio buttons. They were all set to Spanish language stations. I didn’t understand it completely at the time, but I carried that with me, that we had a unique tradition.”

“Ladino itself is so beautiful. It’s a truly pan-Mediterranean language, a mysterious hybrid,” says Aroeste. “Based in pre-1492 Castilian Spanish, over the years it absorbed bits and pieces of languages from the different countries where Jews settled. My family ended up in Greece and today’s Macedonia. Our version of Ladino is Castilian Spanish mixed with Italian, Arabic, Portuguese, Turkish and Hebrew.”

“There’s a certain sensuality that came with the music and rhythms I began to explore,” Aroeste notes. “A lot of the folk songs don’t shy away from sex and love. I always really admired that.”

Highlights of the album include the Flamenco and Middle Eastern-infused fusion piece ‘Scalerica de Oro/Dodi Yarad’, the dreamy ‘Tu Portret’, the passionate ‘El Leon Ferido’ and the global electronica dance grooves of ‘Scalerica de Oro (DMD Remix)’.

Sarah Aroeste will be part of the Sephardic Divas showcase at the Gibraltar World Music Festival on July 9th at St. Michael’s Cave in Gibraltar. Other artists scheduled to perform include Mor Karbasi (Israel-Spain), Françoise Atlan (France-Morocco) and Ofir (Spain).

With Gracia, Sarah Aroeste injects fresh new sounds into the ancient Ladino music.

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