Sarah Aroeste who has performed at the last 3 Sephardic Music Festivals and is set to perform at the Opening Night (Dec 21st @ Le Poisson Rouge) of the 4th Annual SMF. The Daily News caught up Sarah….
When Sarah Aroeste was growing up in Princeton, N.J., she could sense her family was different from the other Jewish families, but did not know exactly why.
“I remember once visiting my great uncles in Palm Beach and I thought it was so weird. … all of their radio stations were set to Spanish ones,” Aroeste, 32, says. “That is when I started asking questions.”
What Aroeste discovered was that unlike most of the Jews she knew, her roots traced back to medieval Spain, from which families like hers, known as Sephardic, inherited the language Ladino.
Aroeste, who lives in the upper West Side, has dedicated herself to keeping Ladino music alive and building bridges with non-Jewish Latino musicians.
She is currently working on her third album with Cuban drummer and arranger Roberto Rodríguez which she says will be a reinterpretation of both Cuban and Ladino folk songs.
“We want to bring [Sephardic music] outside of the Jewish world,” she says, “and to a bigger audience.”
Aroeste, who originally studied opera, already began this work in her first two albums, in a style she calls “Ladino rock.”
In her debut CD in 2003, “A la Una: In the Beginning,” along with the follow-up “Puertas,” she focused on updating centuries-old songs in Ladino — based on medieval Spanish and written in Hebrew script — which tend to be about secular themes like love and displacement.
Following a recently wrapped up tour around the Balkans, Aroeste will be performing next Wednesday with other musicians at the Center for Jewish History in Chelsea and Thursday at The Jewish Community Center in Manhattan in the upper West Side.
She will have a solo concert Dec. 21 at the fourth annual Sephardic Music Festival at Le Poisson Rouge in the West Village.
A year and a half ago she met Rodríguez, 47. Though not Jewish himself, he was introduced to Jewish music when his family moved to Miami from Cuba when he was a child.
His most recent album from 2004, “Baila! Gitano Baila!” fuses Afro-Cuban rhythms and the Eastern-European Jewish sound known as klezmer. For the joint album with Aroeste, Rodríguez will be taking on the Sephardic sounds.
Asked about the possibilities of their music connecting New York’s Latino and Jewish communities, Rodríguez, who lives upstate, responded with an oft-heard phrase these days: “Yes we can!”
Two months ago, Aroeste and Rodríguez traveled to Cuba to perform for the Jewish community. During the trip, they decided to begin building a Jewish music library in Havana, for which they are currently fundraising.
“We have very long-term plans for this project,” Aroeste says. “The dream is to one day start a Jewish music festival in Cuba.”