Sarah Aroeste - Gracia
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Sarah Aroeste
Gracia
Aroeste Music (www.saraharoeste.com)

Ladino, the language of the Jews who resided in Moorish Spain and were expelled following the reconquista of 1492, lives on largely through the Sephardic music of such artists as Yasmin Levy, Mor Karbasi and Ljuba Davis. All women, interestingly enough. Now Sarah Aroeste, gives us Gracia, her take on how the music of her Spanish predecessors landed in and mixed with sounds from the Mediterranean, North Africa, the Middle East and other regions where the ousted Jews found new homes. She doesn’t stop there, though. As the sampled voice of Gloria Steinem on the title track, the empowerment-encouraging spoken passages of “La Comida La Manana” and such lyrics as “I am following the voices of my ancestors / to return to the garden of my mother” show, Aroeste views Ladino music from a feminist angle and sings it the way she sees it.

She’s not shy about modernizing a style that’s been around for centuries. Along with acoustic guitars, strings, bass and percussion, most of the songs feature programmed rhythms. A few even unleash heavy metal-like electric guitar riffs and drumming that’s decidedly rock and roll. Does it work? Well, it’s kind of like comparing traditional Algerian rai to the contemporary version of the same: the music can’t help but lose some of the nuances that originally distinguished it but remains listenable. For the most part I’d give Aroeste high marks for boldness and daring to be different. While some of the tracks come on too forced, the ones that combine aggressive drive with sweeter textures that are well served by Aroeste’s girlish voice (“Ensuenyo Te Vi,” “Las Estreyas”) are sincerely absorbing. I can’t recommend the whole album without reservation, but you may well find enough of what it contains to be worth having. - Tom Orr

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