Noam Vazana – her own testimony in the language of the Sephardic Jews

18 January 2023, 1:00

Noam Vazana – her own testimony in the language of the Sephardic Jews

Noam Vazana, performing under the name Nani, is an Israeli singer who performs songs in the Jewish language Ladino. For her 2017 album “Andalusian Brew”, she collected folk songs, some of which she heard as a child from her grandmother. In 2021, she recorded her first original album of songs in Ladino, entitled “Ke Haber”. In autumn 2022, she performed in Brno at the Music Lab club in a duo with Brno percussionist Jakub Škrha. The following interview was conducted before the concert.

You come from Israel, you live in the Netherlands, but you sing in Ladino, which sounds like a dialect of Spanish. It’s the centuries-old language of the Sephardic Jews and also the language of your childhood memories. But it’s not your mother tongue. What language did you speak at home when you were a child?

We spoke Hebrew at home. My father fled Morocco at a young age after an attack on the school he was attending. He came to Israel as a refugee. He forbade us to speak Ladino or Moroccan Arabic at home because he wanted to forget his past and what had happened to him. That’s why we spoke Hebrew at home.

So when and how did you come across Ladino?

Ladino is actually a dialect of Spanish, but an old one. It is a language that travelled the world with the Spanish and Portuguese Jews who were expelled from the Iberian Peninsula in the time of Christopher Columbus. They scattered all over the world, and some of them ended up in Morocco. My grandmother, who spoke the language, came from Morocco. I was in contact with her but, as I say, my father forbade me to speak Ladino at home. So when I was a child, I associated Ladino mainly with songs about cooking. In fact, I usually spent time with my grandmother around lunchtime when I helped her cook. And she would sing songs, often about food.

Do you also sing about food in Ladino?

Yes, I do. I have three songs about cooking in my concert programme, one of which contains seven different recipes on how to cook eggplant. I have two songs about food in Ladino on the first album, but none on the second.


The second album is called Ke Haber and contains your original songs in Ladino. Can we find any recurring themes on it?

In the tradition of Ladino songs, the female issue is important. Specifically, the relationship between mother and daughter is considered the strongest friendship. For example, my song No Kiero Madre depicts a dialogue between a mother and daughter talking about potential wives. Among a segment of the Jewish population, the tradition of marriages arranged in advance by parents still exists. I do not identify with this custom. In my case too, there were some attempts, but it didn’t work out. In this song, the mother gradually tells her daughter, “You should marry this one because he’s rich. And this one is tall. And this one’s jealous, so he’ll be faithful to you.” The daughter rejects all these offers and falls in love with the drunk, who is called “borracho”.

In general, the lyrics on the album are a combination of what I feel and what I think is interesting. But it also happened that during my research I found old lyrics that actually contained topics that I would like to write about today. Specifically, this is the song Sin Dingun Hijo Varon, which is very interesting because it’s about transgender transition. It’s an old text from the 11th century on a subject that we might think we invented today and that is very progressive. But it’s something that people have been thinking about for a long time. After all, the question of gender in different languages is very complicated. There are, for example, Indian languages that work with seven genders. In the song Sin Dingun Hijo Varon there are three main characters – mother, father and daughter. At the beginning, a man blames his wife for disappointing him because she has not given him any son. She has only given birth to seven daughters and that is not enough for him. The mother apologizes, and a chorus of the seven daughters echoes from the background, saying that they will do their best to make the father happy. But then one of the daughters comes in and says, “You know I’ve always felt like a boy. So I will be the son you never had.” The father does not accept this and disowns her, but the mother defies him and says, “You will not drive my daughter out of the house.” And at the very end he tells her, “I accept you as my son.” – When I read this old text, I knew immediately that I had to write music for it.

What is the point of writing and singing songs in an old language that very few people speak in the world today? Who do you want to reach in particular?

My aim is not to reach out to the community of people who know Ladino and see it as something nostalgic. Rather, I would like to target young people who are searching for their roots. After all, you can see at my concerts that my audience can be divided into two groups. Approximately half of the audience is made up of people who are sixty years old or older and who spoke Ladino at home as children. But a good half of the audience is made up of people aged 18-25 who are searching for their own roots. And I think that’s amazing. For one thing, I’m getting in touch with a generation that I don’t otherwise know at all. And secondly, I’m on a similar level to them in finding my personal roots, because I’ve only recently rediscovered Ladino for myself. So I try to write songs that are relevant to today.

After the expulsion from the Iberian Peninsula, the Jews dispersed over a large area of the Mediterranean. With this, Ladino also diversified into several dialects. Did you deal with this problem when writing the texts?

Of course, we don’t know what Ladino sounded like centuries ago, but it is said to be one of the oldest languages that has survived without much change. It is close to Chilean Spanish, for example. On the other hand, Ladino has been spoken in many countries. When the Jews were expelled from what is now Spain, they went to the Balkans and other parts of the Ottoman Empire, later some ended up in the United States or Canada, and many also lived in North Africa. And each of these regions had its own dialect. So on my album you will also find different dialects. For example, the song Cok Seni Severim is sung in Turkish dialect, Landarico in Portuguese dialect, No Tiene Hija, No Tiene Amiga in Spanish... On my previous album Andalusian Brew I had a song Durme Durme in Bulgarian dialect.

While folk songs from the Sephardic tradition such as Morenica or Cuando el rey Nimrod are quite well known, your concept of writing original compositions in this language is unique. Are there any special rules for writing in Ladino? Or are you free as an author?

I think I’m generally a very free person, for which I apologize to all traditionalists. But at the very beginning I wasn’t too sure about the grammatical structure of the language. I took some classes in Leyden in the Netherlands, but it wasn’t enough to write really good texts. So I researched in old lyrics and tried to fit the grammatical structure of my new songs to these old songs. You have to learn the correct grammar, put the verb in the right place, for example, and so on. So it was kind of a puzzle.

You accompany yourself on the piano, and you also play the trombone. During your Czech tour you collaborated with jazz musicians Emil Viklicky and Petr Dvorsky, while in Brno you invited Jakub Škrha on percussion. So how do you choose the arrangements for your songs?

I think I just feel it... It’s strange to say, but ideas for songs come to me on their own. It’s not like I sit in my room and think: I’m gonna come up with something. In that case, it wouldn’t be good. So I suppose I have some unwritten agreement with inspiration that visits me from time to time. I was on the train this morning and I was on the phone with a good friend of mine. She was telling me about some of her new projects for singers and I gave her some advice that came to mind. And she says to me: You could make a living giving people advice. But it’s true. I get, like, 40 interesting ideas a day, and then I just think about which ones might really work for me and which ones are most in tune with my feelings. And if you put your heart into something, it will work.

On the album “Ke Haber” you included one song by Sting, Shape of My Heart. What does Sting have to do with Jewish songs in Ladino?

The first time I heard Sting’s Shape of My Heart, I was just a kid. I was watching the movie Leon on TV, and the song was playing during the end credits. I liked it immediately, even though I didn’t speak English at the time. Many years later I was performing with an Israeli double bass player and we were looking for a song to arrange together – just for vocals, trombone, and double bass. And this song came to mind. Next to it I put my own Mi Korazon, My Heart, which has a very similar theme. My song is about happiness and how we chase it. And that we feel happiness especially when we create something new. It fit perfectly with Sting’s song, so I connected the two.

In the autumn you released a very interesting music video for the song Una Segunda Piel. What's the story behind it?

In Sephardic tradition, when a person reaches retirement age, he invites his friends and relatives to join him, and they cover him with the shroud of the dead during a great feast. It sounds morbid like that, but it’s a beautiful image of sitting at a table, wrapped in cloth, and reflecting on your life so far. Then you take off the shroud, which is a symbol of rebirth. You begin to live again, as it were, without any worries, without financial problems, without quarrels with the neighbours, without ungrateful grandchildren. It’s like you’re leaving all that behind. I’m kind of imitating that tradition in this video clip. There’s a beautiful animation – the flowers that weave around me. It’s a very nice video, check it out.

What do you plan to do next? Will you write more songs in Ladino? Or will you explore other areas?

I’m open to new things. Actually, I’m already working on a few new projects, but I don’t want to talk too much about them yet. But I believe I will surprise my fans in many countries. We have something coming up in Scotland and something here in the Czech Republic. I want to come back here again in May. I have something coming up in the United States. And in the meantime, I’ll be touring. I’ve got almost forty gigs lined up for 2023 – you can find specific dates and venues on my website. I will continue to focus on Ladino songs, and I'm also preparing a tribute to Nina Simone, whose songs I love very much. We’ve already done this programme since 2018, but in 2023 we will be commemorating what would have been her 90th birthday and also twenty years since her death. That’s why we will be performing more with this project than in previous years.



No comment added yet..

Connection, unity, contemplation - these words can be used to describe the musical evening of Schola Gregoriana Pragensis under the direction of David Eben and organist Tomáš Thon, which took place yesterday as part of the Easter Festival of Sacred Music at the church of St. Thomas. Not only the singing of a Gregorian chant, but also the works of composer Petr Eben (1929-2007) enlivened the church space with sound and colour for an hour.  more

With a concert called Ensemble Inégal: Yesterday at the church of St. John, Zelenka opened the 31st edition of the Easter Festival of Sacred Music, this time with the suffix Terroir. This slightly mysterious word, which is popularly used in connection with wine, comes from the Latin word for land or soil, and carries the sum of all the influences, especially the natural conditions of a particular location and on the plants grown there. This term is thus metonymically transferred to the programme of this year's VFDH, as it consists exclusively of works by Czech authors, thus complementing the ongoing Year of Czech Musicmore

For the fourth subscription concert of the Philharmonic at Home serieswhich took place on 14 March at the Besední dům and was entitled Mozartiana, the Brno Philharmonic, this time under the direction of Czech-Japanese conductor Chuhei Iwasaki, chose four works from the 18th to 20th centuries. These works are dramaturgically linked either directly through their creation in the Classical period or by inspiration from musical practices typical of that period. The first half of the concert featured Martina Venc Matušínská with a solo flute.  more

The second stop on the short Neues Klavier Trio Dresden's Czech-German tour was at the concert hall of the Janáček Academy of Music on 6 March at 16:00. A programme consisting of world premières by two Czech and two German composers was performed in four cities (Prague, Brno, Leipzig and Dresden).  more

The last opera première of the National Theatre Brno this year was Hurvínek Sells the Bride, which was co-produced with the Spejbl and Hurvínek Theatre. The première continued the thematic focus associated with the Year of Czech Music and took place on 24 November in the large hall of the Reduta Theatre.  more

With Thursday's concert entitled Bruckneriana, the Brno Philharmonic under the direction of Principal Conductor Dennis Russell Davies launched the subscription series Philharmonia in the Theatre I. The orchestra performed works by Anton Bruckner and Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, a Polish-American conductor and composer who devoted his life's work to Bruckner. Performers wearing crimson sashes with the inscription "Playing forte!” appeared in front of the audience, joining the "Let's not let culture die” initiative, which draws attention to the underfunding of culture and opposes the government's plan to invest just 0.64% of the state budget into culture next year, moving further and further away from its promise to spend at least 1%.  more

The Brno Philharmonic Orchestra has been running the Orchestral Academy of the Brno Philharmonic (OAFB) project for nine seasons, enabling young talented musicians to gain orchestral experience in a professional ensemble. In this manner, the orchestra educates the next generation of musicians, both permanent and external. However, working here also gives young people the opportunity to show their skills in chamber music and in a concert series called Young Blood aka Music Up Close. The first seasonal concert took place on Wednesday 15 November at Besední dom.  more

Baladas da Luta, Fighting Ballads, is the title of the sixth album by Brazilian singer Mariana Da Cruz and her Swiss-Brazilian band Da Cruz. It is a combination of modern music that combines Latin American tradition and contemporary electronic elements with strong lyrics. In them, the author fights for women’s rights, stands up against dictatorships and specifically criticizes the atmosphere that has evolved in Brazil under the now former authoritarian President Bolsonaro. Da Cruz performed at Brasil Fest Brno in August 2023. We revisit this festival with an interview conducted following their concert at Zelný trh. Singer Mariana Da Cruz and keyboard player and producer Ane Hebeisn, performing as Ane H, responded to our questions.  more

The programme for Janáček Brno 2024, an international opera and music festival now in its 9th year, was unveiled at a concert held to mark this occasion entitled Janáček to the start! On Saturday, 4 November, the Mahen Theatre was filled not only with devoted fans of the festival, but also with foreign journalists, politicians and prominent figures from the world of culture. In addition to a collection of wonderful musical performances, the audience was also treated to a lineup of renowned artists – Kateřina Kněžíková (soprano), Václava Krejčí Housková (mezzo-soprano), Josef Špaček (violin) and, last but not least, Robert Kružík, who took on the role of both conductor leading the Orchestra of the Janáček Opera at the National Theatre Brno during the evening and also performing as a cellist.  more

The musical comedy The Addams Family is the latest production to hit the stage of the Music Theatre of Brno City Theatre. Audiences are in for an ironic, slightly morbid and enticingly horrific spectacle for the whole family. A musical production has been crafted here which serves up a famous contemporary pop culture phenomenon, as well as a generous helping of hyperbole and catchy melodies to boot. And testament to the audience’s hunger for this wacky family is the fact that all thirty performances are already nearly sold out…  more

The Ensemble Versus choir, accompanied by the Ensemble Opera Diversa under the baton of Gabriela Tardonová, demonstrated what a combination of historical and modern instruments sounds like within a contemporary musical context in the Red Church. The dramaturgical line of Tuesday evening was presented in the spirit of a combination of the works of Carlo Gesualdo da Venosa (1566-1613) and the world premiere of Exsultet by the principal composer Ondřej Kyas (*1979), which also includes parts written for cornett (Radovan Vašina), dulcian (Jan Klimeš), trombone (Pavel Novotný) and theorbo (Marek Kubát).  more

The second New World of Moravian Autumn festival began on Thursday in Brno’s Besední dům. This project, by students of the Faculty of Music at the Janáček Academy of Performing Arts, was primarily originally created for the practical musical programming course and intended to be a one-off event during the Moravian Autumn the year before last. Subsequently, however, more students signed up and started working on a repeat festival. The dramaturgy for New World 2023 was handled by percussionists Adéla Spurná and David Paša, bassoonists Aneta Kubů and Josef Paik, and multimedia composer Martin Janda. Three concerts were prepared for 19, 20 and 21 October for this mini festival.  more

The Restlessness of Icelandic Peace was the name of a concert on 15 October at the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul in Brno, at which conductor Chuhei Iwasaki with the Moravia Brass Band and American artist Adam Wiltzie performed a work by Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson (1969-2018). Many of you may know his music from the award-winning films The Theory of Everything and Arrivalmore

The third concert of the Moravian Autumn Festival, held under the auspices of the Ambassadors of Latvia and Lithuania, Elita Kuzma and Laimonas Talat-Kelpša, presented mostly contemporary works by foreign composers on Wednesday 4 October at the Besední dům. The show was directed by the Kremerata Baltica string orchestra, who invited the young talented pianist Onutė Gražinytė to join them, and the whole evening primarily rode on a wave of minimalism. However, during the preparation of the concert, the programme was changed and instead of Geörgy Ligeti's String Quartet No.1 "Métamorphoses nocturnes", works by Jēkabs Jančevskis and Olli Mustonen were performed in their place.  more

The Ensemble Opera Diversa has already presented several compositions by David Matthews (*1943) to Brno audiences, and in most cases these were Czech or even world premieres. This year Matthews’ 80th birthday was celebrated with a performance by the above-mentioned ensemble, or rather its chamber branch Diversa Quartet, headed by dramaturge Jiří Čevela, with a concert on 20 September at the Villa Löw-Beer. The programme, consisting of works by composers closely associated with David Matthews himself, including his own compositions, was preceded by an hour-long discussion in the presence of the composer. Matthews is a British-born composer with long-standing ties to the Brno circle of composers and musicologists. In addition to his participation in the so-called "apartment seminars" in the 1980s, he also is friends with several personalities such as composer, pedagogue and oboist Pavel Zemek Novák (*1957).  more


Terroir, a term used especially in the wine industry, is the subheading of this year's 31st annual Easter Festival of Sacred Music. It refers to the set of natural conditions, especially soil properties, which give a crop its distinctive character. Terroir perfectly describes the dramaturgy of this year's edition, which is focused exclusively on the work of domestic composers in the Year of Czech Music.  more

The Brno Culture Newsletter brings you an overview of what is happening in theatres, clubs, festivals and cultural events in Brno.  more

The Musica Florea ensemble is preparing a new concert programme to be performed for the first time this April. This year marks the 170th anniversary of Leoš Janáček's birth, and to mark the occasion the ensemble has taken up his earliest compositions to set them alongside works from the early Italian Baroque. Musica Florea will be performing with conductor Mark Štryncl. The soloists will be Barbora Kabátková, Stanislava Mihalcová, Daniela Čermáková, Hasan El Dunia and Jaromír Nosek.  more

Easter concerts are already a tradition at the Brno City Theatre. This Easter, the Rock Mass will be performed on Friday and Saturday at the Music Stage of the Brno City Theatre.  more

The ProART art group is celebrating 20 years of its activity. In addition to the celebrations, the Year of Czech Music also commemorates the anniversary of the composer Bedřich Smetana and the Czechoslovak choreographer Luboš Ogoun. These anniversaries will be combined into one production, DREAMS OF CONSCIOUSNESS.  more

Tenebrae, has long been one of the most impressive parts of the Easter Festival of Sacred Music. They are held from Wednesday to Good Friday, always from 9 pm at the Jesuits'. This year, the darkened church, in which candles are burning, will be unusually filled with music commissioned by the festival.  more

The festival enters its 17th year with a series of concerts that will fill not only the South Moravian metropolis with funky music, but also Prague as part of the "travelling" concerts. The year-long festival programme is starting to take off and the organisers are adding two more names. The previously announced French band Electro Deluxe is now joined by Fun Lovin' Criminals and the most prominent jazz-funk formation from Iceland - Mezzoforte.  more

The concert entitled "In between genres" is the culmination of a three-day event celebrating 100 years of radio broadcasting in Moravia. The whole event includes genre-free concerts, a showcase of new music recordings from radio production and a colloquium dealing with folk songs in radio broadcasting, and last but not least, a commemoration of editor Jaromír Nečas and his radio venture - a series of programmes called The Colourful Singing World. The final concert is moderated by Břetislav Rychlík and Jiří Plocek.  more

Mahan Esfahani, an absolute world leader in harpsichord playing, is coming to Brno. He was the first and only harpsichordist in the world to win the BBC's New Generation Artist in 2008-2010 and has won countless prestigious music awards. He will perform with the Brno Philharmonic Orchestra in a programme entitled Mahan Esfahani: harpsichord in the main role.  more

Years of international cooperation between the cities of Brno and Stuttgart will culminate in one musical event - a joint concert in the Hall of the Brothers of Charity. Rossini's Petite Messe Solennelle will be performed by the Ökumenischer Choir.  more