In 1492 their Catholic Majesties Ferdinand and Isabella weren’t just busy financing Columbus’s treasure hunt to India they were also arranging for an “ethnic cleansing” of their Kingdoms of Aragon, Castille and Granada. The Alhambra Decree gave the Jewish population of Spain four months to either convert to Christianity or leave their homeland – taking with them anything they owned that was not of gold, silver or minted coin. And with that edict the Sephardi began their wanderings in North Africa, Europe and the Near Orient.
Though Ferdinand and Isabella may have gained much financially – monies, treasures and land reverted to the crown – Spain lost much of a culture that had existed within it borders since before the birth of Christ. A culture that had flourished under Roman and Muslim rule but was destroyed by Christian zeal – and plain old fashioned greed. A culture that was rich in learning, art, crafts, music and history. And a culture that had its own language, Ladino, that was on the verge of extinction just a few years ago.
One of the reasons that both the language and the music have survived was the work of Turkish-born Issac Levy (1919-1977) – a musician and synagogue cantor who spent a lifetime collecting thousands of Sephardic songs from Balkan, Turkish and Moroccan singers who had immigrated to Israel. His daughter Yasmin Levy has continued in his footsteps, singing traditional songs, composing new songs in Ladino and adding a flamenco flourish to much that she sings.
Nani Nani is a traditional Sephardic cradle song or lullaby in the form of a dialogue. I haven’t been able to get an exact translation but the Mother sings: Sleep my soul, my life, sleep peacefully and dream that your father comes back to us in happiness. There have been suggestions that it is the song of a deserted woman who’s husband has been unfaithful.
This is the title track from her album Mano Sauve. I find the combination of modern and traditional instruments and the mixture of the Sephardic with the Flamenco fascinating – almost hypnotic. Her passionate love of this music is almost palpable. Its incredible to see the various cultural influences in this song – Sephardic, Turkish, Spanish – a mix of Jewish, Muslim and Christian cultures!
27 febbraio – San Leandro