Sarah Aroeste / A la una

interesting letter on desert background Sarah Aroeste
A la una
, 2003

There have been a wealth of new Sephardic music recordings in recent years. In terms of CD sales, Sephardic music outsells Yiddish music, which outsells klezmer which, of course, outsells experimental Jewish music by a far cry. At the same time, while there is a revival of Yiddish culture in this country, Judeo-Spanish, or Ladino culture, seems much less visible. Sarah Aroeste, whose family comes from Salonika, Greece, is on a mission to bring these songs to a new audience. She sings, deliberately, in the original Judeo-Spanish. Ranging from the tender ballad, "Durme, Durme" to the more rocking title song or the tragic "En El Café", this is wonderful music.

Until now, however, I don't think I could have pointed to a sharp, contemporary, danceable Sephardic music album. Until I heard this particular album, I don't think it would have occurred to me that the category was necessary. I love traditional Sephardic music, well sung. I tend to avoid the saccharine pop sephardic music of, say, Fortuna. Enough, no? No. This album is scintillating, danceable, occasionally trance-dik, and always true to the Ladino traditions whence the words and music are derived. (Tangential to the fun and pleasure of this album, it is worth considering Edmund Seroussi's research into the rather recent origins of the title song. When it is sung this beautifully, of course, who cares?)

In listening to this album, I find myself often referring mentally to more traditional versions of these songs as performed by, say, Judith Cohen, whose performance with her daughter of what is here called "Hija Mia" is one of my favorites. I am stunned at how much the versions resemble each other - and at how successfully Aroeste has succeeded in setting this music in a way that makes it contemporary, without losing the very traditional feel of the music and the music's roots. I now have two favorite versions of this song.

Special mention should be made not only of Aroeste's voice, which is strong and sensual, but also of the backing band, which is superb. Interesting, at times, as on "Yo M'enamori" it also reminds me of contemporary Israeli pop at its best. But that makes sense. Much of Israeli pop is also derived from the same Sephardic traditions performed here so well.

The other surprise on the album is the lovely, quietly trance-like version of "Noches" and the trance remix of "Hija Mia" with which the album ends. It is at these points that the music moves from notable, crisp rearrangement into something newer, exploratory, and still exceptional.

This is a very special album. It rocks. But the album is also true to tradition in ways that many traditional albums are not. It has, in fact, been a favorite with everyone in the house for the weeks since I got it. Aroeste's voice is a revelation. I look forward to her next release, or even better, seeing her perform live.

Reviewed by Ari Davidow 11/23/03

Personnel this recording:
Sarah Aroeste: vocals
Yoel Ben-Simhon: musical direction, oud, piano
Hicham Chami: Quanun
Alan Cohen: Electric guitar
Emmannuel Mann: Fretless bass
Carlos Revollar: Classical guitar
Bridget Robbins: Nay
Vin Scialla: Drums
Yousif Sheronick: Percussion


  1. A la Una--in the beginning (trad.; add'tl composition & arr. Yoel Ben-Simhon) 5:00
  2. Arvoles--missing you (trad., arr. Aroeste, Ben-Simhon, Cohen) 3:45
  3. Café Rumbita (trad.; add'tl composition & arr. Yoel Ben-Simhon) 4:34
  4. Hija Mia--the one I want (trad.; arr. Yoel Ben-Simhon) 5:14
  5. Durme, Durme--as you sleep (trad.; add'tl composition & arr. Yoel Ben-Simhon) 4:49
  6. Yo M'enamori--moon trick (trad.; add'tl composition & arr. Yoel Ben-Simhon) 3:58
  7. Adio Querida--last goodbye (trad.; arr. Yoel Ben-Simhon) 5:09
  8. Noches--sweet nights (trad.; arr. the band) 7:19
  9. Hija Mia Remix (engineer: Tamir Muskat) 5:12

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