January 1st, 2020
(For most recent March update, please scroll down...)
Welcome! I am excited to introduce you to The Monastir Project, my newest 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 have spent months 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 will be recorded in Israel and the other half in Macedonia.
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. 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 will cost approximately $50,000, which includes recording and production, travel between countries with several musicians, documentation, and more. When we’re done, 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 (phase 2). A portion of proceeds from music sales and concerts will go back to the many wonderful volunteer projects happening in Bitola to preserve Jewish history 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 donate 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,