Video: Israeli Singer Breathes New Life into Ladino Music

TRENDING | A transformative deja-vu experience in the Jewish quarter of Fez, Morocco led a talented jazz singer to redefine her music. Noam Vazana learned Ladino — a dying language once spoken by Sephardic Jews, and is the first to release a pop album of original lyrics. Our Emily Frances has the story.

Story: With a sultry voice and a powerful soul, singer-songwriter Noam Vazana is belting out tunes and breathing new life into a dying language.

Vazana says it is a ‘journey’ to her roots. ‘I feel I have special contact to it but also some kind of obligation to help it thrive and make it more relevant today with the young generation.’

‘For me, the music comes first. I’d like to make it accessible — make it musical and create new songs in this language,’ she says. The Israeli-born, Amsterdam-based singer, pianist and trombone player has come out with the first original Ladino pop album. She is reclaiming her birthright, as the Sephardic-Jewish language was culturally passed from woman to woman over centuries.

‘The women would speak between selves in Ladino about unattained love because marriage was arranged back then. All the passion and lust had to manifest itself somewhere. There’s a lot of secrecy as well mystique. They believed in magic,’ Vazana explains.

Noam’s creative inspiration for her new album of original songs in Judaeo-Spanish came from what she calls a destined moment, while visiting her grandmother’s hometown of Fez, Morocco after attending a performance at a local jazz festival. ‘There were 500-600 people in the square all singing songs that my grandma sang to me when I was a kid,’ she recalls. The singer continues, ‘It was a flashback moment. I reflected back and thought about those memories and what represent for me.’

A full year later, she realized that she wanted to record an album of modern Ladino music. So she studied the Ladino language and went on her way. Ladino Professor Edwin Seroussi heads the Jewish music research center at Hebrew University and has seen a resurgence of young people wanting to learn the language.

‘The word ‘Ladino’ translates from sacred scriptures of Latin and modern Spanish,’ Seroussi explains. But what many don’t realize, is that the Jews of medieval Spain spoke Arabic — not Ladino. Professor Seroussi says that Ladino developed as a language of survival across North Africa and the Ottoman Empire after the Jews were expelled during the Inquisition.

‘The Judaeo-Spanish language was created after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain. It mixes several dialects of romance languages and adopted a lot of words from the language of area in which they settled,’ says Seroussi.

This is the same with the sound and style of music, using different instruments popular in different regions of the Diaspora. But unlike other artists of today, sticking to traditional songs written hundreds of years ago, Noam is striking a cord with young audiences.

‘When people talk about inspiration, it doesn’t fit into that category. It’s just a feeling that you need to catch the song before it goes away,’ says Vazana.

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