The Monastir Project
(For project updates, please scroll down...)
Welcome! I am excited to introduce you to The Monastir Project, my latest musical endeavor.
After nearly 20 years of bringing the Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) music of my family to audiences around the globe, I am now setting upon my most personal project yet.
In 2017, I was invited to sing in Bitola, Macedonia (formerly known as Monastir), the birthplace of my grandfather and home to a once thriving Sephardic Jewish population. Sadly, after WWII, no Jewish life remained in the city. And yet, the current citizens-- non Jews -- have demonstrated their respect and love of a Jewish history now lost. I have witnessed it firsthand in subsequent travels to the city (read my article about it in Tablet Magazine here). So I have launched a project to return that love and to record an album of Macedonian Jewish music.
I spent much of 2019 researching in archives through the National Library of Israel, and working with friends on the ground in Macedonia to find songs that are unique to the Monastir community that once existed. Some of the songs are in Macedonian and reference Jewish life from long ago, and others are traditional Ladino songs, some of which have never been recorded in song form before.
And here’s the most exciting part: by cultivating friendships and contacts in Bitola, and with my longtime music producer, Shai Bachar, who resides in Israel, the Monastir Project is a joint effort between myself, Israeli and Macedonian musicians. Half of the album is being recorded in Israel and the other half in Macedonia (with me in the USA, and hoping to travel again once COVID-19 passes...).
It is the largest project I have launched in my career—spanning 3 countries and dozens of musicians! It will take about a year to complete. Since the project launched in January 2020, We have already recorded a children’s school in Bitola, an opera singer in Skopje, and several beloved musicians in greater Macedonia and Israel (see Update 1 below). On a shoestring budget, phase 1 of the project costs approximately $50,000, which includes recording and production, travel between countries with several musicians (before COVID-19 broke out), documentation, and more. When we’re done recording (target is the end of 2020), we’ll have a unique musical homage to Jewish Monastir, and musicians across borders - Jews, Christians and Muslims- who will come together to present the music at various international music festivals when live performances are possible again (phase 2). In the meantime, proceeds from music sales will go back to the many wonderful volunteer projects happening in Bitola to preserve Jewish history, such as restoration of the old Jewish cemetery that still stands there (phase 3).
There is still much work to be done to raise awareness of this beautiful community. With your help, we can complete this project that, through music and intercultural dialogue, will bring so many different people together to celebrate Jewish Monastir.
There are a couple of ways to contribute to this initiative:
1. You can donate by credit card online at this link here.
2. If you prefer, you can also donate by check. Please send contributions to Aroeste Music LLC, 57 Green River Valley Road, Alford, MA 01230. Checks should be made payable to “Fractured Atlas, with “Sarah Aroeste- The Monastir Project” in the memo line.
The Monastir Project is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non‐profit arts service organization. (That means your donations are tax-deductible – an added bonus!)
Thank you again for your support of my work, both past and present. I value any help making this project a reality (including spreading the word, or recommending us to family foundations or for matching grants).
You are helping to keep alive the memory of Jewish Monastir.
Monastir Project Update 1 - March 30th, 2020
I wanted to update you on the progress of The Monastir Project. While the COVID-19 outbreak has slowed our efforts, I am happy to report that I was able to go to Macedonia to start the recording process earlier this month. The trip was different than planned, but it was very successful nonetheless.
My Israeli music partner, Shai Bachar, and I started off in Skopje where we recorded 18-year old Helena Susha, one of the last remaining Jews in Macedonia. Not only is she a treasure of her community, but her accomplished operatic voice will amaze you!
We then moved on to Bitola where our next session left us smiling for days. We recorded several kindergarten children singing their school anthem- a song thanking a Macedonian Jewish partisan in WWII for whom their school is named!
Next we recorded Sefedin Bajramov and Vevki Amadov, two beloved Macedonian musicians whose beautiful connections to the region’s Jewish history we can't wait to share with you soon.
And of course I got a little singing in there as well, including for N. Macedonia's President of the Parliament, Talat Xhaferi (center)!
It was truly a wonderful week of music making and diplomacy. Our work with a wide range of musicians, citizens and government officials helped foster excitement for and continued commitments to this important cultural initiative.
So even though the my trip was cut short by the virus, I managed to make the most of my time there.
The second half of the project, recording in Israel, is still on track, albeit on a slower schedule as I am not able to travel there for the time being. But we are working hard behind the scenes and getting music and musicians ready for when we’re able to get back in the studio.
The project is proceeding, and we feel so lucky that music is uniting all of the participants during this difficult time. We hope you find inspiration in this news as much as we do.
Healthy and best wishes,
Monastir Project Update 2 - May 20th, 2020
I am happy to report that we are back on track recording! I have new equipment that will allow me to record at home, and we have ensured that all our musicians abroad will be able to do the same! Here's a sample of the amazing percussionist Itamar Doari, at home in Israel, recently laying down his part for one of the tracks on the album. Much more to come in the weeks ahead now!
Here's to music and health,
Monastir Project Update 3 - August 20th, 2020
What an exciting summer it's been, even with all its challenges. We've now successfully recorded 8 out of 10 songs, and have already worked with over 20 musicians! We're hoping to complete the final two songs by the end of October and then move the project towards the editing and mixing stages. There is still a lot to be done! But in the meantime, I am continually inspired by the musicians, volunteers, activists and contributors (like you!) who are helping to move this project forward. Here's a special highlight from one of our sessions in the last few weeks. The great Israeli superstar, Yehoram Gaon, is one of our participants and you can watch a clip from our recording with him (the Monastirli version of the Ladino classic, Yo La Keria) in Israel earlier in August. We can't wait to update you with more surprises soon!
Yours in music and peace,
Monastir Project Update 4 - November 22nd, 2020
We continue on with the project, even as COVID-19 remains in our lives. Translation work is in full-speed, and we are finalizing arrangements of our last two songs in the first installment. There is still much work to be done- especially in documenting the many participants and dialogues that are happening around the project. We continue to seek support! We are so grateful that so many people came together (nearly 300!) to learn about current projects happening in Monastir/Bitola today to preserve Jewish history. Thank you to all who joined! You can watch the full playback below and learn more about the status of The Monastir Project here!
Yours in health and music,