I got the chance to sit down and talk with Maci Miller, an accomplished jazz singer who has performed around the world, before her live-streamed concert “Jazz at Sunset” with Multicultural Arts Exchange on August 7th. Check out our conversation below.
I’ve been freelance blog writing for the Multicultural Arts Exchange (MAE) for about a year now and recently I had the opportunity to collaborate on a creative project!
The Multicultural Arts Exchange is an organization in Philadelphia that presents, promotes, and creates performing arts programming. They mostly put on affordable classical music concerts, but have run dance festivals, jazz concerts, and musicals too. MAE is a super cool organization and I suggest you check them out on Facebook @maephila or their website www.maephila.com. They’ve been hit hard like many arts organizations due to COVID-19, but they are putting on online concerts pretty consistently recently.
As part of their effort to help musicians and artists during this time, they are starting multimedia collaborations. Me included! I was commissioned to write poetry inspired by the work of MAE musicians Kaptain AtAnAm and Ray Man X, a blues/rock keyboard and guitar duo. You can read my poetry and listen to the music that inspired it in my blog “Vikings Rhapsody Continued: Three Music Inspired Poems.”
There may be more to come, so stay tuned!
Originally written for the Multicultural Arts Exchange newsletter.
“Music is a universal language,” Sarah Aroeste says. “If it moves you, it doesn’t matter what language it’s in.”
Sarah Aroeste is one of the premier Ladino performers and writes original songs in Ladino, the Judeo-Spanish language of the Sephardic Jews. A language on the brink of extinction, Sarah helps preserve and promote Ladino through her performances. She is known for her signature blend of traditional music and modern genres like rock and jazz. “I grew up in America, on Bruce Springsteen. When I first heard the music [of Ladino], that’s how I heard it,” she says. After a 20-year career (that’s still growing), Sarah has run the gambit from traditional to experimental and released six albums, even a children’s album and book. “My interest is to push the culture forward,” Sarah explains. “Preservation is about going forward, because of kids, you want it to be alive and make this culture exciting.”
In Ellie Falaris Ganelin, Sarah found someone who shared her vision. Ellie is the founder of the Greek Chamber Music Project, an organization dedicated to promoting Greek composers. Ellie and Sarah connected through their shared Greek heritage, Ellie’s father also hails from Salonica. In Sarah, Ellie saw an individual with the same passions from a culture with similar struggles. “When I learned about the Sephardic Jews, I felt a deep connection with them, coming from the Mediterranean and being part of a diaspora,” Ellie explains.
Diaspora is when a group must flee their homeland and are scattered. Diaspora is universal, happening to all kinds of people throughout time. The experience of Syrian refugees fleeing from the civil war is a diaspora of today. “I live in diaspora as well, and I try to keep my dad’s language alive for my daughter,” Ellie says, being of Greek heritage and growing up in the U.S. “Living abroad is always a challenge when there’s a dominant language, but you have to keep alive what’s important to you.”
The pair, along with Israeli pianist and producer Shai Bachar, are currently touring their concert, Remembering the Jews of Greece: A Musical Journey, to share Ladino through music. The multimedia concert will feature Sarah performing old and new songs in Ladino, accompanied by Ellie on flute and Shai on piano. There will be a mix of music from all over, just like the culture of the Sephardim—Spanish, Balkan, folk, rock. The program uses video projection to display lyric translations, footage of Sarah’s grandparents in Salonica, and interviews with Holocaust survivors from the Fortunoff Video Archive at Yale University. The complete experience will be a celebration of the Greek Jews, bringing them alive through the music and film of real people who lived through that time. “I hope this music inspires people and educates them,” Ellie says. “I am excited to share this and move people in a way that matters.”
The trio will have already performed up and down the east coast, from Connecticut to Washington, DC. On November 10th they will finish their tour in Philadelphia, in partnership with the Multicultural Arts Exchange (MAE). Sarah and Ellie are multicultural artists striving to make a positive impact in their communities through their art and music, the type of artists the Multicultural Arts Exchange strives to support. Together they hope Jewish and non-Jewish people alike join them in paying tribute to the Sephardim, bringing new experiences to the Northeast Philadelphia community and helping keep a lost language alive.
“This is not a Jewish concert. This is universal,” Sarah emphasizes. “All of the songs and stories express such universal themes that anybody will be able to relate to. Ladino as a language and culture is so inviting because it keeps all of the best parts of European cultures. It is a bridge-building culture.”
To learn more about Sarah Aroeste and Ladino, visit saraharoeste.com or her blog. You can listen to her music on her youtube channel. To learn more about Ladino, read my previous blog “Ladino: The Lost Language of the Jews of Greece.”
“My grandfather used to say he was a Turk from Greece but spoke Spagnol,” Sarah says. “He was a proud Sephardic man.” Like so many across the United States, Sarah Aroeste grew up learning about her heritage from family members, like her grandfather—the history, traditions, the food, the music.
Sarah, her grandfather, her whole family are Sephardim or Sephardic Jews. It is believed that Jews lived in Spain all the way back to 930 BC. They did so until the 13th century when the Spanish Inquisition began. They were tortured and killed alongside Christians accused of heresy. In 1492, while Columbus landed in the New World, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella expelled all Jews from Spain. The Sephardim are descendants of the Jews who fled Spain. They traveled east, across the Mediterranean and Balkan regions, all parts of the Ottoman Empire at the time. The Sephardim picked up pieces of all these cultures on their travels, transforming their prayers, food, and dress.
“We are both traditional and liberal,” Sarah explains. “Traditional in that we hold onto Jewish laws and customs, but liberal in that we are a tapestry of society. We have proverbs and folktales that have a ribbed, self-deprecating sense of humor and make fun of social norms. We are sensual and a very female nurtured culture.”
And out of this new mish-mosh of culture, Ladino was born. The Spanish language they carried from their homeland blended with the rhythm and flow of their Arabic speaking neighbors. “Ladino is a completely unique language,” Sarah says, “that defines this group of Jews.” Sephardic Jews settled all over Europe and North Africa, but this language unites them. In modern times, it is mostly spoken in Turkey, Bulgaria, Israel, and Greece. It was in Greece where Sarah’s ancestors began new lives and where her grandfather grew up. Born in Monastir, known today as Bitola in North Macedonia, he also had close family and friends in Salonica, today within the borders of Greece. Salonica was the major center for the thriving Sephardic community in Greece. Until the Holocaust.
“Up until the holocaust, Ladino was the dominant Jewish language of the Mediterranean,” Sarah says, “But people today have never heard of it.” 81% of Jews in Greece were murdered during World War II. The once-thriving community in Greece was nearly wiped out of history permanently.
Since then, there has been a growing effort to preserve Ladino and the Sephardim’s culture. Scholars in several universities have established Ladino programs. Singers, composers, and playwrights around the world perform traditional Sephardic music in Ladino and create new songs to carry on the tradition. Sarah is one of them. After being introduced to the Ladino music scene by her mentor Nico Castel, she began by incorporating Ladino into her performance repertoire. “Audiences would say it was their favorite part,” she says. “I sang it more passionately because I felt it more passionately. Over a couple of years, I kept coming back to it, so I realized that I needed to do it full-time.”
To be continued in “Ladino: A Language Resurrected.”
Grigory Smirnov is a pianist and composer partnered with the Multicultural Arts Exchange (MAE), a non-profit that promotes, presents, and produces performing arts programming in the Northeast Philadelphia area. I interned with MAE over the past summer and had the chance to interview Grigory.
Read all about Grigory’s process and philosophy behind his music in his profile “A Composer’s Introspection: Grigory Smirnov” on the MAE blog, here.
Vladimir Atamaneko is the Artistic Director and Sound Guru of the Multicultural Arts Exchange (MAE), a non-profit that promotes, presents, and produces performing arts programming in the Northeast Philadelphia area. I interned with MAE over the past summer and had a blast interviewing Vladimir.
Read all about Vladimir’s days of running sound production for underground Russian rock bands and his business of making custom sound equipment in his profile on the MAE blog, here.
Mikhail Zorich is the Project Director of the Multicultural Arts Exchange (MAE), a non-profit that promotes, presents, and produces performing arts programming in the Northeast Philadelphia area. I interned with MAE over the past summer and has the pleasure of interviewing him.
I’ve had the great opportunity to intern with the Multicultural Arts Exchange this summer. They’re a group who support local artists and organize performing arts event in Northeast Philly. Everything from classical concerts to musicals to dance shows. I’ve had a blast writing blogs for their website and helping out with events. Everyone involved loves the arts and wants to open their community to those who haven’t had the opportunity to enjoy theatre, music, or dance.
To keep doing what they’re doing, they need help. So please consider donating to their fundraiser: https://fundraising.fracturedatlas.org/multicultural-arts-exchange/campaigns/1203.
If you want to know more about the Multicultural Arts Exchange (or check out my blogs 😉 ), visit their website http://www.maephila.com, facebook page (@maephila), or youtube page. They list all of their upcoming and previous events on facebook. There are also clips on youtube of past performances and artist interviews.