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A woman sings into a microphone
Nani Noam Vazana performs in the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress, September 14, 2023. Photo by Doug Peach.

Homegrown Plus: Ladino Songs with Nani Noam Vazana

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Welcome back to Homegrown Plus! We’re continuing the series with a concert and interview featuring 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 says her 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 vibrant singing. As usual with Homegrown Plus blogs, you’ll find the concert video, an interview video, and a wealth of links to related collections and concerts, all right here in this blog post.  Let’s get started with the concert, which is in the player immediately below!

Regrettably, I was in Istanbul while Nani performed in Washington–I even met some Ladino speakers there! Because we knew I’d be away, we did the interview in advance via the magic of internet communications. As Nani 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!

Collection Connections and Links

A woman holds a trombone over her head and sings
Nani Noam Vazana performs in the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress, September 14, 2023. Photo by Doug Peach.

If you enjoyed the concert and interview, check out the Collection Connections below. You’ll find links to archival collections, guides, and other materials related to Sephardic, Ladino, and Spanish music and culture.

Collection Guides

If Jewish folklife interests you, make sure to check out this guide to Jewish collections at the American Folklife Center!

You might also be interested in Spanish-language materials featured in AFC’s guide to Latinx and Latin American Collections.

Videos

To hear more Ladino songs, visit this blog, featuring three concerts of Ladino songs by Flory Jagoda.

If you enjoy traditional music from Spain, watch this video concert and interview with Vigüela performing Traditional Song and Music from Central Spain.

Follow that up with our Carlos Núñez Concert Honoring Alan Lomax’s Spanish Fieldwork.

Finally, watch a video featuring one more traditional Spanish song by Judith Cohen.

StoryMap

View a StoryMap created by Ascensión Mazuela-Anguita tracking Alan Lomax’s fieldwork in Spain (1952-1953).

Thanks!

Thanks for watching and listening! Remember, the concert was part of the Library’s celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month.

Find out more about the concert at this link!

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