While many fear it is in danger of extinction, Ladino — the Judeo-Spanish language spoken by Sephardic Jews since pre-Inquisition Spain — has enjoyed a renaissance of sorts in recent years, thanks in part to a number of young musicians working to revive it for a new generation.
Among those musical acts is Baladino, an Israel-based folk band whose inspiration comes from different cultures and eras around the Mediterranean. The five-member group combines centuries-old harmonies from Spain, Eastern Europe, Israel, Turkey, and Middle Eastern nations, and blends its youthful energy with more than 25 instruments, including flute, violin, wind instruments, a shofar, and Egyptian darbuka, a hand drum common throughout the Middle East.
Baladino was conceived by Thomas (Tomer) Moked (strings and producer) and Yonnie Dror (wind instrumentalist) after they spent years playing for an Israeli band and working alongside some of Israel’s most venerable acts. The two were in search of a “different musical vocabulary” and looking to bring more instruments into their act. That’s when they met vocalist Yael Badash, who had performed throughout Europe, taking first place twice for original Ladino songs at “Festiladino” in Israel.
The driving force behind Baladino combines giving old songs new lives while tinkering with new instruments and sounds, as well as voice techniques, Badash says. As a child, she spent a lot of time at her grandmother’s house taking in the sounds of the language.
“The magical thing is that almost in every place we perform, there are always people that hear the Ladino language and are deeply connected to it,” she says. “We try to spread the beauty of the traditional Ladino. Although it’s been hundreds of years, this music is still alive today.”
The group’s name combines the words “Ladino” and “Baladi,” which means “my home” in Arabic. The group’s members, whose influences include Led Zeppelin, Radiohead, Bob Dylan, and jazz artists, hail from Tel Aviv and Berlin.
“Living in such a culturally rich place made us more curious about the different music styles in our area,” Moked says. “Also, because we can’t just travel to many of our neighboring countries, we started exploring on YouTube and learned to play many of the traditional instruments from the Middle East.”
According to Moked, Baladino tries to make the songs modern while keeping the integrity of the original. “We listen to many old recordings, mostly a cappella, sometimes with very bad quality from the end of the 19th century, and when our ear catches a melody that we find interesting, we start playing it and find out what comes up,” he says.
Baladino will perform November 21 at the Stroum Jewish Community Center as part of its revived cultural arts program. Renowned Bosnian Ladino singer-songwriter Flory Jagoda performed at the SJCC last December, in collaboration with the University of Washington’s burgeoning Sephardic Studies Program. Previous Ladino-inspired performers brought to Seattle by the UW include singer-songwriter and cultural activist Sarah Aroeste and the award-winning Guy Mendilow Ensemble. The university will host a celebration of the third annual International Ladino Day in December.
This fall will mark Baladino’s fourth U.S. tour, and their first west of the Mississippi. “We thought it’s really about time to expose the people of the West Coast to our music,” says Badash, who calls Baladino’s music “minimalistic moments of intimacy.”
“And even if it’s their first time, it’s hard not to fall in love with those songs,” she says. “I think these songs have a lot of power inside of them, and that must be one of the main reasons why they survived for over 500 years.”
More Upcoming Concerts
Guy Mendilow Ensemble
October 7 at 7 p.m.
Guy Mendilow Ensemble performs Ladino songs on its “Tales from theForgotten Kingdom” tour, with an interview with UW Sephardic Studies professor Devin Naar. At the Ethnic Cultural Center, 3931 Brooklyn Ave. NE, Seattle.
Lady of Cool: Kathy Kosins
October 10 at 8 p.m.
Award-winning vocalist Kathy Kosins (“cool with a touch of gravel”) has won hearts around the globe with her eclectic musical palette. Her “Ladies of Cool” explores West Coast artists. $15–20. At the Stroum JCC, 3801 E Mercer Way, Mercer Island.
October 17 at 7 p.m.
Nelson is a renowned multi-instrumentalist and songwriter whose work is celebrated and integrated into the repertoire of congregations, camps, and communities around the world. At Temple B’nai Torah, 15727 NE Fourth St., Bellevue.