Collaborative Poetry Project with Multicultural Arts Exchange

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!

Ladino: The Lost Language of the Jews of Greece

Originally written for the Multicultural Arts Exchange newsletter. Featured image from here.

“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.”

To learn more about Sarah Aroeste and Ladino, visit saraharoeste.com or her blog. You can listen to her music on her youtube channel.

PROFILE: Mikhail Zorich, Project Director

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.

You can read all about how he “caught the performing arts bug” and started the non-profit in a two-part profile on the MAE blog. Part 1 can be found here, and Part 2 here.

Support the Arts!

Hi!

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.

Thank you,

Laura