It was not until she was already on her way to adulthood, that singer Sarah Aroeste discovered the connection between her Sephardic roots in Greece and her love of music with the Sephardic musical traditions in Ladino. Becoming a mother for the first time, she did not want her daughter to wait as to learn to love Ladino music. Not finding kid-friendly Ladino music, she did what any singer song-writer would do, she began to write her own!
The results of that effort will be out this month, with the release of Ora de Despertar – Time to Wake Up – a groundbreaking album of children’s music entirely in Ladino. Though it is the first of its kind for children, the album is also one of the few works made up of entirely new songs. Ladino was the language spoken by Jews, not only from Greece and Macedonia, like Aroeste’s family members, but throughout the Sephardi diaspora. Ladino was the language the Jews took with them from Spain when they were forced to flee in 1492. But over time fewer people use Ladino as an everyday language. “Although I didn’t grow up speaking Ladino myself, I heard my relatives speak it,” explains Aroeste, and she wanted to pass it on to the next generation.
“My desire in writing this album was to fill the gap,” she continues. “To share with my daughter music from her heritage that she would relate to. The way we transmit culture has changed so much. I’m incredibly worried that if we don’t start switching gears toward children and education, our beautiful Ladino tradition will get lost. For kids, the title track is simple, playful, but for us grownups, it’s a serious wake-up call.”
To do so, Aroeste created songs that touch on the topics that are fun for kids, balancing catchy tunes with content that adults will enjoy as well. There are animal sounds and mealtime songs as well as tributes to love and parenting. The arrangements are upbeat and engaging, with contemporary sounds and instrumentation, an approach that reflects Aroeste’s ongoing efforts to reinvigorate Ladino music and to write new material with centuries-old roots.