Sarah Aroeste, inspired by her family's Sephardic roots in Macedonia and Greece, has spent the last twenty years bringing her contemporary vision for Sephardic culture- through music and books- 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 centuries and crosses many geographic boundaries.
American born and trained in classical opera as a teenager at Westminster Choir College and then at 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 been a vocal advocate for exposing new audiences to Sephardic culture and has worked tirelessly to keep Ladino alive for a new generation. Aroeste is one of few Ladino composers today who writes her own music, and whether with her original compositions or with interpreting Ladino folk repertoire, she has developed a signature style combining traditional Mediterranean Sephardic sounds with contemporary influences such as rock, pop and jazz.
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, she has released seven 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, Monastir (2021), and the all-Ladino Hanukkah CD, Hanuká (2021). She has performed in major music venues across the globe, 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 many projects since. 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 2019, Aroeste was selected to perform one of her programs, Yiddish meets Ladino, as part of Carnegie Hall’s Migrations Festival: The Making of America. Most recently, Aroeste's 2021 recording Monastir won best Jewish Album of the year by media outlet Alma, and in December 2021, Aroeste received the Young Leadership Award from the Sephardic Brotherhood of America for her work in advancing Sephardic culture. Currently, Aroeste is 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 addition to producing music, Aroeste has also spoken widely and published countless articles about ways to preserve Ladino. She is especially recognized for her work in introducing Ladino to young families. In 2016, Aroeste's Ora de Despertar children's project won a coveted Parents' Choice Award. She is currently working on writing Sephardic-themed books for children. Her first book, Buen Shabat, Shabbat Shalom was published March 2020 with Kar-Ben publishing and PJ Library, and her forthcoming book, Mazal Bueno, will be published in Spring 2023.
With her unwavering commitment to preserving Sephardic life, Sarah Aroeste has received notable attention over the years for her innovation in working to make its music and culture more accessible and exciting to new and larger audiences.
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.