The Arty Semite

Ladino East Meets American West

By Mordechai Shinefield

  • Print
  • Share Share

Though she has been involved in the Ladino music scene since Neil Armstrong strode the moon, Ljuba Davis’s new release, “East and West,” is her debut album. The 43 years Davis has spent kicking these songs around orally before committing them to permanence rings throughout the album. “East and West,” unlike comparable recent ladino records (like Sarah Aroeste’s “Gracia”), eschews contemporary sounds in favor of what seems, at first blush, like canonical melodies.

Courtesy of Rock Paper Scissors

It’s an artistic choice that emerges from a personal one. “My kids put me up against a wall,” Davis told the Forward. “They said, ‘record these songs so that we have a legacy from you.’”

“East and West” is also a reminder that even attempts to hew close to tradition are still fraught with change. “Adir Hu,” a Seder hymn, is revved up with an propellant acoustic rhythm, as is opening track, “Et Dodim,” a Mizrahi interpretation of the Song of Songs that underlines the sultry lyrics — a trilled duet closes on the words “Henesu rimonim” (“pomegranates budding”). Here, and elsewhere on the album, Davis tries to build a bridge between her Sephardic heritage and a stealth, practically unacknowledged, American folk tradition. On “Durme,” a lullaby backed by Davis’s son David on cello, she sings in the timbre of gothic Americana, striking the most haunting moment on the album.

Unusual for such releases, “East and West” is a double album. On one disc Davis sings and on the second she has been excised for the benefit of Orthodox men who refrain from listening to female vocalists. Though the instrumentals and male vox are intact on the second disc, curious listeners should stick to the first.

The most interesting things about Davis’s work all come from her almost half-century twisting American and Sephardic folk traditions together, a synthesis she alone vocalizes in spare moments. Her decision to expose this music to the broadest possible audience is commendable, but by so easily cutting herself out, she sells her own material short. “East and West” is not just the exercise in recording classic Ladino tunes - it’s something more special, and it’s something that requires Davis herself.

Watch Ljuba Davis play ‘Hamavdil’:


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Mordechai Shinefield, Music, Ljuba Davis, East and West, Ladino

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.