Sarah Aroeste, inspired by her family's Sephardic roots in Macedonia and Greece, has spent the last two decades bringing her contemporary style of original and traditional Ladino music to audiences around the world.
Aroeste writes and sings in Ladino, the Judeo-Spanish dialect that originated by Spanish Jews after their expulsion from Spain in 1492. Those who left Spain, including Aroeste’s family, carried the medieval language with them to the various points where they later settled, primarily along the Mediterranean coast and North Africa. In time, Ladino came to absorb bits and pieces of languages all along the Mediterranean coast, including some Greek, Turkish, Portuguese, French, Italian, Hebrew, and more.
This exotic pan-Mediterranean language has, unfortunately, been fading away. But the continued musical legacy of Spanish Jews highlights the strength of an oral tradition that spans many centuries and crosses many geographic boundaries.
American born and trained in classical opera at Westminster Choir College and Yale University, Aroeste became drawn to her Sephardic musical past after spending a summer in 1997 performing at the Israel Vocal Arts Institute in Tel Aviv. There, she had the fortune of studying with Nico Castel, one of the world’s great Ladino singers and coaches at the Metropolitan Opera, with whom she learned she shared a similar Sephardic background. Continuing to study with Castel upon her return to the US, Aroeste started incorporating classical Ladino songs into her opera repertoire. She quickly realized that Ladino, not opera, was her true musical passion and soon after made the leap to studying Ladino full time.
Since then, Aroeste has worked tirelessly to keep Ladino music alive for a new generation. Her style, whether with her original music or with interpreting Ladino folk repertoire, combines traditional Mediterranean Sephardic sounds with contemporary influences such as rock, pop, and jazz. One of few Ladino artists today who writes her own music, Aroeste performs songs of such universal themes as family dynamics, first-love crushes, unrequited love, loss, searching for home, going off to war, and much more. Together, her songs have brought new life and energy to the beautiful and mysterious sounds of Sephardic music.
Aroeste has amassed a large and loyal following across the US and abroad, and has been featured in both national and international press. To date, Sarah Aroeste has released six recordings, A la Una: In the Beginning (2003), Puertas (2007), Gracia (2012), Ora de Despertar (2016), the first all-original Ladino children's album, Together/Endjuntos (2017), the first bilingual (Ladino/English) holiday album, and most recently, Monastir (2021). She has performed in major music venues throughout the US and overseas (tours through Europe, Israel and Cuba), and has collaborated with such notables as Frank London (The Klezmatics), Roberto Rodriguez, Tamir Muskat (Balkan Beat Box), and more. In 2008 Aroeste was a finalist in Israel’s prestigious “Festiladino” competition of original Ladino songs and performed her winning song with the Jerusalem Symphony. Currently, Aroeste works with renowned Israeli composer and producer Shai Bachar to stage the live, multi-media production of her Gracia project, which is an original Ladino, feminist, rock homage to 16th century Sephardic heroine, Dona Gracia Naci, as well as their children's project, Ora de Despertar (Time to Wake Up). In September of 2014, an electronic version of their Gracia project won the Sephardic Prize at the International Jewish Music Festival in Amsterdam, and in June 2015 the Gracia project represented the USA at the International Sephardic Music Festival in Cordoba, Spain. In 2016, Aroeste's Ora de Despertar children's project won a coveted Parents' Choice Award, and one of the lullabies from the album was selected as a finalist for the Forward's Soundtrack of our Spirit contest. Aroeste is now hard at work directing The Monastir Project, which brings Israeli and Macedonian musicians together to honor Monastir, a once thriving Sephardic Balkan community before WWII.
In recent years, Aroeste has also spoken widely and published countless articles about ways to preserve Ladino, and is currently working on writing Sephardic-themed books for children. Her newest book, Buen Shabat, Shabbat Shalom was published March 2020 with Kar-Ben publishing and PJ Library.
With her unwavering commitment to Ladino cultural preservation, Sarah Aroeste over the years has received notable attention for her innovation in working to make Ladino more accessible and exciting to new and larger audiences. Bringing a fresh and inspiring modern sound, Sarah Aroeste and her contemporary Ladino style has helped to transform and revitalize a tradition.
Want to learn more about Sarah's background and inspirations? Read her Gracia Tumblr Blog here!
Shai Bachar- Musical Producer
Jerusalem-born Shai Bachar has worked with international artists as varied as Ishtar Alabina, Omar Faruk Tekbilek, Sheila Jordan and Dudu Fisher, and has produced a platinum-record for Israeli superstar Ronit Shachar, wrote the original music for the Israeli Academy of Film best documentary film, Souvenirs (2007), and has scored countless commercials, PBS specials, and movies both in the US and in Israel.