Ladino music on display in Jerusalem

The utilitarian property of Ladino is one of the elements that underscore Thursday’s concert (8:30 p.m.) at Jerusalem’s Confederation House.

 VOCALIST, PERCUSSIONIST, composer and arranger Esti Kenan Ofri (left). (photo credit: Hadar Bashari)
VOCALIST, PERCUSSIONIST, composer and arranger Esti Kenan Ofri (left).
(photo credit: Hadar Bashari)

Some of us, of the Ashkenazi persuasion, are aware of the universality of Yiddish. If you can converse in the Judeo-European lingo, you are likely to be able to communicate with Jews from around the world, regardless of their mother tongue.

The same applies, to a somewhat lesser degree, to Ladino – the “Yiddish” of the Judeo-Spanish world.

The utilitarian property of Ladino is one of the elements that underscore Thursday’s concert (8:30 p.m.) at Jerusalem’s Confederation House, fronted by vocalist, percussionist, composer and arranger Esti Kenan Ofri. The show goes by the intriguing title “Useful for Living – Songs of Life from the Ladino Tradition,” which basically tells the whole musical and sociocultural story.

There is an online video clip of a number called “Como lo hare mi padre,” which translates as something akin to “How Should I Do It Father?” In it Kenan Ofri performs alongside her Confederation House cohorts, vocalist-percussionists Meirav Wahab and Yasmin Galit Sahar who, respectively, have Yemenite and Iraqi roots, as well as drummer, percussionist and vocalist Oren Fried.

As they sing the percussive, cogent piece, the women enact a choreographed depiction of handwashing, one of the many household chores -traditionally assigned to the distaff side of the family. It is in Thursday’s song list.

Esti Kenan Ofri: Committed to continue. (credit: PAZIT DANK)Esti Kenan Ofri: Committed to continue. (credit: PAZIT DANK)

In addition to the rich musical and cultural content, there will be a strong simpatico spirit to the show, informed by years of collaborative musical endeavor.

“Meirav and Yasmin were students of mine in Jaffa,” Kenan Ofri notes.

That followed an epiphanous moment in her professional continuum. “When I left Jerusalem I realized there is not enough awareness of roots music that is a little in danger of extinction. So I established a nonprofit which works as a sort of guild, with five teachers teaching five traditions, so far. Meirav and Yasmin studied with me [classical Arabic melodic modes] maqam and Ladino singing.”

One of those educational areas pertains to the Ladino cultural-musical spread, which incorporates numerous idiomatic and dialectical nuances, as Jews expelled from Spain in the wake of the Inquisition settled and, in some cases, resettled across Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. This created a broad diaspora in which, through the generations, Jews of Spanish descent took on local baggage, which colored their own way of life and cultural practices. That included fine-tuning their Ladino vocabulary, and accents, and their music.

Some of that sentiment comes across in the “Useful for Living - Songs of Life” concert, which, as the name implies, features material that feeds off yesteryear quotidian activities.

“Ladino, for me, is life singing,” says Kenan Ofri. “When I say is ‘useful for living,’ that references the way the evening [at Confederation House] is crafted and performed.”

The idea is very much to impart the ambiance of the way of life in the Ladino household and community. “The show is designed to explain how much power there is in these songs, which were not originally meant to be performed on a stage. These are songs that have the force of life, which served in all kinds of circumstances in everyday life.”

That covers a broad spectrum of situations and emotions.

“There is a song for every nuance of longing. There are songs for every level of depression.” Kenan Ofri laughs. “There is a song for every degree of joy, for expressing gratitude, for preparing for motherhood and, of course, for a wedding and the cycle of the year.”

The concert program also takes in a liturgical song which harks back to a time when Jews and Arabs, in Spain, got together to sing and down a good cup or two of wine.

For tickets and more information: (02) 539-9360 ext. 5, http://www.confederationhouse.org, *6226 and http://tickets.bimot.co.il

“Useful for Living – Songs of Life from the Ladino Tradition” will also be performed at East-West House in Jaffa on April 7 (9 p.m.). For more information: https://www.facebook.com/mizrachmaarav