In the summer of 1492, tens of thousands of Spanish Jews trudged sorrowfully toward the country’s ports and borders as more than a millennium of Jewish presence in Spain came to an end. Observers noted that the rabbis encouraged the women to sing and play their tambourines, to keep up the spirits of the exiles. And so it came to pass that Sephardic women sang and played and never stopped. They sang the old songs and made new ones to teach to their children and grandchildren, continuing this practice down to the present day. Courtship, marriage, lullabies, laments, and stories from the Bible—every aspect of life is reflected in this lively and loving repertoire, and most songs speak clearly in a woman’s voice. To be sure, men also made and sang songs, but they most often told of women they’d loved, lost, hoped for, dreamed of, and desired.
Trio Sefardi has mined this rich tradition, sung in Ladino or Judeo-Espagnol, and in this program they weave together songs and stories from the former Yugoslavian, Greek, Turkish, North African, and Middle Eastern sources to show the pervasive influence of women in Sephardic song. Their primary resource has been their longtime mentor, Flory Jagoda (1923 – 2021), who learned many songs from her Nona (grandmother), Berta Altarac, as a child in the Bosnian village of Vlasenica, and who wrote many more while in her 60s and 70s in her adopted home in Virginia.
The trio’s lead vocalist, Susan Gaeta, was Nona Flory’s apprentice in the Virginia Humanities Master/Apprentice program and is now herself a master artist with her own apprentice. Washington Post music critic Anne Midgette praised a performance of the trio at the Kennedy Center as “lovely and luminous,” and called Susan’s voice “compelling.” In the words of Jewish music scholar/performer/teacher Joshua Horowitz, “the connection of Trio Sefardi with the legendary Flory Jagoda is so palpable that the group can be seen as the heir apparent to her legacy.”
Indeed, as Flory herself wrote, “Trio Sefardi’s beautiful harmonies and skilled accompaniment movingly translates the joy and soul of the lost world I remember so well. Along with my own family, I am proud to call them my musical heirs.”
“What a thrill to listen to Rikordus, Trio Sefardi’s new CD honoring and remembering our mother, Flory Jagoda. We know she would have been overjoyed to hear her compositions so beautifully interpreted and performed by Susan, Howard and Tina. Susan’s voice on Rikordus di mi Nona and Sviraj Harmoniku hauntingly captures Flory’s own voice and projects the emotional depths that Flory was so proud of. Bravo Trio Sefardi for “continuing ….” -Betty Jagoda Murphy and Lori Jagoda Lowell
The Trio with Flory Jagoda
TRIO SEFARDI, a northern Virginia-based ensemble, performs traditional songs of the Sephardim, the descendants of Jews exiled from Spain in 1492. Their repertoire draws on the song traditions of Sephardic communities from the former Yugoslavia, Greece, Bulgaria, Turkey, and North Africa, with a special emphasis on traditional and original songs they learned from their mentor, Bosnian-born singer/composer and 2002 National Heritage awardee Flory Jagoda. The trio has performed extensively at prestigious East Coast concert venues, festivals, synagogues, and Jewish community centers since forming in 2010.
Members of the trio are Susan Gaeta, lead vocals, guitar; Tina Chancey, back-up vocals, viola da gamba, Renaissance violin, Pontic lyra, rebec; and Howard Bass, lute, guitar. The members combine Susan’s extensive experience with jazz and folk music, Tina and Howard’s early music background, and the influence and inspiration that Susan and Howard derived from fifteen years of working and touring extensively with Flory Jagoda. Trio Sefardi programs provide audiences with an opportunity to hear songs sung in Judeo-Espanyol (commonly known as Ladino) that have been passed down through the generations as well as newer songs composed by Flory that celebrate the memory of now-lost communities of the Balkans.
The trio has produced three CDs: Sefardic Celebration (2011), Kaminos (2016), and La Yave d’Espanya (2019). In addition to their standard programs that include songs of love and loss, holidays and hope, they offer a multi-media program about their mentor entitled “La Nona Kanta: The Remarkable Life of Flory Jagoda,” which combines filmed interviews with Flory, live music, animation, maps, still images, and spoken narration. “La Nona Kanta” is presented in conjunction with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The museum’s International Outreach Office Jaime Monllor says of this program, “We believe “La Nona Kanta” will give audiences, young and old, Jews and non-Jews alike, a shining example of one person’s triumph over adversity and will lend new meaning to the on-going battles against hatred and prejudice.”