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Portrait of singer Nani Noam Vazana
Nani Noam Vazana. Photo by Asaf Lewkowitz.

Homegrown Artist Nani Noam Vazana Interviewed

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On Thursday, September 14, at Noon Eastern Time, we will host a special concert with Nani Noam Vazana. Vazana is one of the few artists in the world who writes and composes new songs in the endangered Ladino (or Judeo-Spanish) language, a form of Spanish derived from Old Castilian which is spoken by Sephardic Jews living mostly in Israel, the Balkans, North Africa, Greece, and Turkey. Ladino, which traveled to these areas with Jewish communities expelled from Spain in 1492, is very nearly extinct in many places. Nani’s work seeks to capture the spirit of this ancient, matriarchal language and culture and propel it into the 21st century with socially pertinent lyrics addressing themes such as migration, gender, and female empowerment. Nani’s goal is to create a bridge between tradition and modern life, capturing the sounds and smells of the marketplace and fusing them with surprising instrumentation and raw vocals reminiscent of flamenco.

Singer Nani Noam Vazana prepares to sing into a microphone on an outdoor stage with hundreds of audience members.
Nani Noam Vazana live at the Montana Folk Festival. Courtesy of Nani Noam Vazana.

If all goes according to plan, I will be in Istanbul while Nani performs in Washington. However, what might be an unfortunate schedule conflict for me resulted in an advantage for our blog subscribers: it encouraged us to hold our usual interview with Nani in advance, through the magic of internet communications, which means you can watch it now! In case you’re still deciding whether to come to her concert, you should hear her tell her story and see if she can convince you! As she revealed to me, she was born in Israel to parents who had emigrated from Morocco. Her father, wishing to leave the past behind, forbade the Ladino language in the house–but her grandmother didn’t have to obey. She learned some Ladino from her grandmother, and, more importantly, heard her singing Ladino songs. Years later, on a trip to Morocco to play at a jazz festival, she heard a familiar melody, one she had heard before in her grandmother’s kitchen. This set her on a new path of researching Ladino songs and eventually composing her own songs based on older texts.

Of course, that’s only the bare bones of the story, and Nani tells it much more fully, as well as discussing her music, her career, and her plans for the future. Watch the interview in the player below!

Thanks for watching! Remember, the concert occurs Thursday, September 14, at Noon Eastern Time, in LJ-119 of the Thomas Jefferson Building (10 First Street SE, Washington DC). It’s part of the Library’s celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month.

Find out more about the concert at this link!

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