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For more info on Ladino, check out

Another Jewish Musical Tradition from Europe:
Sephardic (Judeo-Spanish) Music from Salonika

Spring in Salonika (Lyra Records, Athens, Greece, 1995)
Songlist/Song samples

David Saltiel/Jewish-Spanish Songs of Thessaloniki (Oriente Music, Berlin, Germany, 1997)
Personnel | Songlist/Song samples

All albums available from Hatikvah Music International, 436 N. Fairfax Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90036 (323)-655-7083, Hatikvah Music">Hatikvah Music

by Steve Fischbach

The World Music movement has encouraged many musicians to seek out and preserve "lost" or "dying" musical traditions. In Europe, many musicians have turned to preserving the musical tradition of Jewish communities obliterated during the Holocaust. For the most part, that effort resulted in a large number of non-Jewish musicians performing Klezmer music, the music of Eastern European Ashkenzi Jews. Only a few musicians have delved into the repertoire of the smaller Sephardic Jewish community of Europe, which lived in and around the Balkans since their expulsion from Spain in 1492.

The word "Sephardic" is derived from the Hebrew word for Spain, "Sepharad," home to a vibrant Jewish community since at least the days of the Roman Empire. Half a millenium ago, Jews in Spain faced the choice of conversion to Christianity, forced expulsion, or death in Spain. Migrating Sephardic Jews sought refuge throughout the Mediterranean basin, and large numbers found a safe haven in the lands ruled by the Ottoman Empire. Many Jews fled to Salonika (now called Thessaloniki), a port city in Greece located midway between Athens and Istanbul, and situated very close to today's Balkan nations of Macedonia and Bulgaria. Salonika's Jewish community dates back to the City's founding in 315 BCE, during the reign of Alexander the Great. Sephardic Jews poured into Salonika in the wake of the Spanish Inquisition, increasing Salonika's Jewish population from 2,000 Romaniote Jews (Greek speaking Jews) to eleven times that amount (22,000). In time, the Romaniote Jews became assimilated into the Sephardic community. By the 16th Century, Jews made up half of Salonika's multi-ethnic population, which included Greeks, Turks, Vlachs, and others.

Album cover: Spring in Salonika coverTwo recently issued CD's present similar interpretations of the vast but shrinking repertoire of Jewish music from Salonika: "Spring In Salonika," (Lyra Records, Athens, Greece, 1995) and David Saltiel, "Jewish-Spanish Songs of Thessaloniki (Oriente Music, Berlin, Germany, 1997). Both CD's available in the US from Hatikvah Music International, 436 N. Fairfax Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90036 (323)-655-7083, Hatikvah Music">Hatikvah Music. The songs of Salonika's Jews are sung in Ladino, a language related to Hebrew and Spanish much the way that Yiddish reflects German, Hebrew, and dozens of other languages in between. (For more info on Ladino, check out ). And, like its Yiddish counterpart, there are many Non-Jewish cultural influences to be heard in the music: Spanish, Greek, Turkish, Macedonian, etc. The singers are accompanied by two different ensembles of Greek musicians playing oud, violin, frame drum, cymbalon, and other Greek instruments.

The "Spring in Salonika" CD is better suited for casual listening than David Saltiel's release. I suspect that's because the musicians on the "Spring In Salonika" CD regularly perform as an ensemble, while the producers of the Saltiel CD had assembled a band of musicians to record Sephardi songs from the Balkans, and they eventually recruited Saltiel to record with the band. Saltiel, whose family traces its roots back to Spain (a fascinating Saltiel family history can be found on the world wide web at, appeared on several field recordings of Ladino music singing a capella. Thus, the sound on his CD is not as polished as the "Spring in Salonika" CD. The latter CD is graced by the by the soothing, yet expressive vocal performance of Savina Yannatou, who clearly sounds more comfortable performing with a band than Saltiel (it is worth noting that some of Yannatou's repertoire is taken from the Saltiel field recordings).

The "Spring in Salonika" CD also offers a broader sampling of Sephardi songs than does Saltiel's release. The songs performed include "Romances," (epic songs), lullabies, wedding songs, and songs of daily life. Saltiel's repertoire does not include "Romances", but consists of "Coplas," which, according to the CD liner notes, is "an indigenous genre of Ladino poetry which developed within the Ottoman Empire." The subject matter of Coplas includes Jewish festivals, historical events within the community, and philosophical musings.

Album cover: David Saltiel album coverWhat Saltiel's CD may lack in polish and variety is made up for in authenticity. And, Saltiel's devotion to preserving the musical tradition he grew up comes through clearly in his performance. Saltiel's recording reminds me of Richard Hagopian's recordings of Armenian music, both in style and tenor. Both Saltiel and Hagopian are artists that seek both to preserve and continue musical traditions they grew up with. And, both artists are masters in their own right.

The liner notes for both CDs are extensive. The notes to the "Spring in Salonika" CD appear in Greek, Spanish, English, and, therefore, are not as detailed as the notes to Saltiel's. The notes to Saltiel's CD are in English only, and cover the History of Salonikas Jewish community, an explanation of the different types of songs that appear on the CD, and background on the artist. Both CD's contain translations of the songs.

Although these two CD may be hard to find, and contain music that is not widely performed, they are well worth the hunt. One benefit of the "World Music" movement is that obscure musical traditions are becoming a part of the cultural mainstream. And, as more listeners "discover" Ladino music, it will be (hopefully) easier to find these recordings in stores and to hear them played on the radio.


Songs from "Spring in Salonica"

  1. La cantiga del fuego
  2. El Sueño de la hija a del rey
  3. Los bilbilicos
  4. Morenica
  5. Tres hermanicas eran
  6. Morena
  7. Yedí Kulé
  8. Una matica de ruda
  9. Por qué lloras, blanca niña
  10. Alta es la luna
  11. Nani nani
  12. Jaco
  13. Ya salió de la mar la galana
  14. El encalador
  15. Durme, hermoso hijico
  16. Primavera en Salonico


Personnel on the David Saltiel Recording:
David Saltiel: vocals
Markos Skoulios: ud
Giorgos Mavrommatis: qanun
Giorgos Psaltis: violin
Lefteris Pavlou: frame drum
Nikos Tzannis-Ginnerup: lyra


Songs from "David Saltiel/Jewish-Spanish Songs of Thessaloniki"

  1. Introduction 0:23
  2. La serena--The Siren 7:07
  3. La Huérfana del prisionero--The Orphan of the Prisoner 4:59
  4. La llamada de la morena--The call of the dark-haired 3:43
  5. El incendio de Salónica--The fire of Salonica 4:06
  6. La madre comprensiva--The understanding mother 2:27
  7. La cigarrera--The tobacco girl 3:53
  8. El encalador--The whitewasher 3:01
  9. La galana y la mar--The bride and the sea 2:28
  10. El testamento de Hamán--The Testament of Haman 3:34
  11. La caída de Hamán--The Fall of Haman 2:43
  12. La alegría de Jaco--The joy of Jaco 4:04
  13. Día de alhad--First day of the week 3:17
  14. El parto feliz--Happy childbirth 2:31

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Last revised 08 November, 2014.