Preserving the Endangered Ladino Culture Through Music

Dec 29, 2016

The Latino Arts Center offered Milwaukee audiences the rare opportunity to hear a musician performing in a language that is considered to be endangered.

Before 1492, Ladino was the language everyone spoke in Spain, but it left when the Jews were expelled from the country. Contemporary Ladino singer Sarah Aroeste's family were among those who left Spain, taking the medieval language with them.

"Jews in particular didn't know that they wouldn't be returning to Spain...and they didn't have access to how Spanish developed into the vernacular today. So they took that 15th Century dialect of Spanish and combined it with bits and pieces of languages from the counties where they ended up settling," she explains.

The Ladino language includes elements of French, Italian, Arabic, Greek, Turkish, Hebrew and more. "It really is a pan-Mediterranean hybrid language. It's just a cultural treasure," says Aroeste. "It's so beautiful on the tongue because it really combines some of the best components of all of these beautiful languages."

Inspired by her family's Sephardic roots in Greece and Macedonia, Aroeste has spent the last 15 years bringing new and traditional Ladino music to global audiences. She writes her own music inspired by history and her own family.

Aroeste's goal is not just to preserve and respect the tradition, but ensure its longevity through modern influences. "I didn’t want the culture to fade out with my generation, so I felt really compelled to honor my grandfather and all my relatives who came before him to make sure this culture lived on," she says.

*Originally aired November 2016