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For nearly nine decades, acclaimed singer and composer Flory Jagoda has passed along the colorful, soulful strains of Sephardic Jewish music to audiences worldwide. Considered the mother of Sephardic music and its ancient Ladino language, Jagoda’s influence has been felt from classrooms to concert halls, where she has been recognized as an important ambassador of a unique musical heritage. Kojo explores the sounds of Sephardic music with Jagoda and members of the music group, Trio Sefardi.
- Susan Gaeta Singer and guitarist; Member, Trio Sefardi
- Howard Bass Professional musician; Member, Trio Sefardi
- Tina Chancey Professional musician; Member, Trio Sefardi
- Flory Jagoda Singer and composer; National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellow
Flory Jagoda At The Library Of Congress
In celebration of Women’s History Month, the Library presented a concert of Ladino music with Flory Jagoda in performance with Tiffani Ferrantelli and Zhenya Tochenaya.
Flory Jagoda Sings “A Espanya (To Spain)”
Jagoda performs the song, A Espanya (To Spain), at the Washington Folk Festival at Glen Echo, Sunday, June 5, 2011.
Flory Jagoda Performs “Ocho Kandelikas”
As part of the Boston Jewish Music Festival, Cantor Gastón joined Flory Jagoda and and members of Trio Sephardi in singing “Ocho Kandelikas,” one of her best-known songs.
Rendition Of Flory Jagoda’s “Ocho Kandelikas”
A fun interpretation of “Ocho Kandelikas” by a Connecticut children’s choir.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, China's newly declared air defense zone and U.S. reaction to it. But first, there are some names in music who have not only passed along a musical heritage. They've also given it their own unique sound. Thinking of people like Peter Seeger who embodies American folk singing or Shirley Caesar known as the first lady of gospel. There's B.B. King and blues or Earl Scruggs and Bluegrass.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAnother maybe less well known name goes in this vaunted category, Flora (sic) Jagoda. For nine decades, this acclaimed singer and composer has passed along the soulful strains of music that originated with Spain's ancient Jewish population known as the Sephardim. After their expulsion from Spain in 1492, Sephardic Jews scattered to Africa, the Middle East and parts of Europe. Jagoda's family settled in Bosnia and generations later she learned Sephardic music from her grandmother who had learned it from her grandmother.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIToday Flora (sic) Jagoda is known as the -- Flory Jagoda is known as the mother of Sephardic music. She's a resident of Alexandria, Va. and she has devoted her life to passing along her unique musical heritage to generations of students. And today she joins us in studio. Flory Jagoda is a singer, musician and composer. She's also a National Heritage Fellow for the National Endowment for the Arts. Flory Jagoda, thank you so much for joining us today. Good to see you.
MS. FLORY JAGODAGlad to be here. Thank you.
NNAMDIYou have been recognized and honored internationally as an important carrier of musical tradition that, for all intents and purposes, should have been wiped off the map generations ago. First, can you tell us a little bit about your heritage and how Sephardic music has survived over the centuries?
JAGODAWell, survival is actually every day remembering home and especially remembering Minona. We spoke at home only Judea Spanish or as it's called, ladino (sp?). And the songs are the most important that gives you strength and will to continue.
NNAMDIYou grew up in a mountain village in Bosnia where you learned this style of music from your nana, your grandmother. But World War II came and you had to flee your homeland. Can you tell us how you ended up here in the United States and why you decided to make your life's work passing on this music?
JAGODAWell, coming to the United States actually was a dream come true and it gave me life. I love this country and I just feel good, feel very much at new home for the most wonderful home for me.
NNAMDIAnd why have you decided to dedicate your life to passing on this music?
JAGODAWell, when I came to America actually, what I brought with me what I could say is like a suitcase full of memories. These memories actually never leave you, never -- good memories, bad memories. But all in all the most important is where they come from. In my case, during the war was tough memories. But then in between here comes holidays that you remember, family, lastias (sp?) , the aunts. And that is when I started thinking of maybe writing them down and trying very hard to teach others and maybe continue and join me. And that is what I want to do as long as I can.
NNAMDISpeaking of others joining you, the members of the Trio Sefardi join you in studio today. Susan Gaeta is a singer and musician. Susan, thank you for joining us.
MS. SUSAN GAETAThank you. I'm glad to be here.
NNAMDIHoward Bass is also a member of Trio Sefardi. Howard, good to see you.
MR. HOWARD BASSThanks, Kojo, good to be here.
NNAMDIAnd Tina Chancey is not only a member of Trio Sefardi, she's also director of the early music group Hespras (sp?) . And Hespras has performed on this broadcast before. Tina, thank you for joining us.
MS. TINA CHANCEYThank you.
NNAMDIYou too can join this conversation. Give us a call at 800-433-8850 or you can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or you can send a Tweet with your comments or questions @kojoshow. Well, we are having this conversation on what happens to be the last day of Hanukkah. So for our audience to have a vision, an audio vision if you will, of what we're talking about, I thought we'd start with one of your well-known songs appropriately called "Hanukkah." Take it away, please.
NNAMDIFlora (sic) Jagoda and Trio Sefardi performing "Hanukkah." Tina, it is my understanding that the Capitol Hill Chorale will be performing "Hanukkah" with your group, Hespras. Tell us a little bit more about that, when is it taking place?
CHANCEYYes, it's happening on Saturday at 7:30 and Sunday at 4:00. And it's -- and Capitol Hill Presbyterian Church, right, 4th and Independence. And we're doing "Hanukkah," which is my arrangement of Flory's songs. Flory has been nice enough to let me arrange some of her songs for chorus and other instruments as well. And it's going to be fun.
NNAMDIYou can find more about that on our website at kojoshow.org. Flory, I think a lot of us are familiar with Klezmer music which originated with the Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern Europe. Are there any similarities between the sounds and songs of Sephardic music and Klezmer music?
JAGODAI didn't hear you.
NNAMDIIs Sephardic music similar to Klezmer music?
JAGODANo. I think Sephardic music has mostly a sound of old Sephardic songs, the old Spanish songs.
NNAMDISusan, you're a member of Trio Sephardi, but you're also Flory's longtime stage partner. How did you meet Flory and why was Sephardic music something you wanted to focus on in your musical career?
GAETAWell, I met Flory in a very interesting way. they were doing a concert to honor her in the D.C. area. And she has sung with her children who have grown up singing with her. And they wanted to surprise her with a medley of her music and they asked me to be her. They asked me to sing her parts with them and surprise her. And so that's how I met Flory. And she said to me after the concert, you have to continue singing this music.
GAETAI also lived in Buenos Aires, Argentina for eight years so I'm fluent in Spanish. And so that mixed with my Jewish heritage and meeting Flory and this beautiful music. That's how I got started.
NNAMDIWhat you got from Flory was basically an instruction.
NNAMDIWhat are the most important things that Flory has taught you about singing and performing this kind of music?
GAETAWell, she has a very famous line that her nona would say, if you can't sing with soul don't sing at all. And she's taught me much about feeling the music. She's taught me how to really create space in my music, to breathe, to listen, to wait and interpret with feeling what you're singing.
NNAMDISame question to you, Howard Bass.
BASSI met Flory because she came to a concert of an early music ensemble that also performed some Sephardic repertoire. And her concert was in the late '80s. And Flory came to the concert because she's always interested in hearing people doing this music. And she came up afterwards and she was extremely excited about the fact that we were doing the music. And she invited us to come to her house and learn some of her songs. And then I went on with her and learned a lot of her guitar accompaniments and we've been playing together ever since.
NNAMDITina, as a member of Trio Sefardi and a specialist in early music, I know that you play many different instruments. You've got an interesting one with us today. Can you tell us about it and give us a little demonstration?
CHANCEYYes. The viola de gamba is my favorite instrument. And that's saying a lot because I play all sorts of things with strings and bows. It's something like a bowed guitar. It has six strings, it has frets and you play it with a bow that you hold underhand, king of like chopsticks. And you do that so you can put your fingers on the hair, which of course cellists would hate. And you do that so you get some extra nuance and subtlety.
CHANCEYThe viola de gamba is in families. This is a bass. There's also a tenor and a treble and they're all tuned in fourths like a guitar with a third in the middle. And it sounds kind of like a cello this much.
CHANCEYAnd you can pluck it as well. It's a wonderful versatile instrument and it sounds wonderful in Sephardic music.
NNAMDIFlory, I tend to associate this music mostly with guitars but she is here with a viol (sp?) and Howard has a lute. How does Sephardic music incorporate other instruments?
JAGODAThe Sephardim started quite hard, maybe left Spain, wanted to survive. They didn't know where to go and where to continue. So all in all the Sephardic music is a mixture of many countries. When they left Spain, they tried to -- any country that would take them in. It travels. And traveling it picked up words from all different kind of countries. So it is a mixture of many places. Definitely it was up to the woman to continue what they left. And to continuing means being in the different countries picking up different words, melodies and also rhythms of dances.
JAGODASo we have a mixture of many, many things. And today I would say still when you hear Sephardic music there is a lot of Castilian Spanish in it that I don't think that we'll ever forget.
BASSAnd if I could just add...
BASS...if I could just add to that. In my study with the music, it's mainly a vocal music. It's a song repertoire. And people, as Flory indicated, moving around from different countries, different cultures, if they had an instrument they would play along. If they didn't have an instrument, they always could sing. And so it was mostly a vocal repertoire. There wasn't instrumental music composed for it. But when Flory was growing up people were playing guitars. Her first instrument was, in fact, the accordion. So it just varied from place to place. So you'd get Arabic instruments.
BASSAnd because Tina and I play these early music instruments, we like to add those when we can.
CHANCEYThis is what we play on. Also we don't really know when a lot of the music is from. Because it was distributed by ear -- communicated by ear and by mouth and person to person, we don't know. When things are ancient, it could be ancient 100 years, it could be ancient 200 years. So we use what instruments we have and feel fine about that.
NNAMDIFlory, so many of your songs are playful and they have themes that we can all relate to, life, love and marriage. I'd love to hear you play a song that embodies the spirit. Can you play "Jo Hanino Tu Hanina"?
NNAMDILadies and gentlemen, Flory Jagoda and Trio Sefardi with "Jo Hanino Tu Hanina."
NNAMDIFlory Jagoda and Trio Sefardi performing "Jo Hanino Tu Hanina." We're going to take a short break. When we come back we'll continue this conversation and hear some more of the music. But if you have questions, call us at 800-433-8850. If you have called, we will try to get to your calls. If the lines are busy, shoot us an email to email@example.com. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking with Flory Jagoda and members of Trio Sefardi. Flory Jagoda is a singer, musician and composer. She's also a National Heritage Fellow for the National Endowment for the Arts. The members of Trio Sefardi are Tina Chancey who is also director of the early music group Hespras. Susan Gaeta is a member of the Trio Sefardi. She plays guitar and is a singer. Howard Bass is a musician. He also plays the lute, which you'll be hearing about very shortly. And we're -- Flory Jagoda, I have read that you taught music your whole life but that you did not start singing until much later on. Why?
JAGODAWell, in my -- I started singing because the whole family was singers. And it was a daily going on from morning or sometimes the afternoon. My aunt would come in and learn a new song (unintelligible) would all jump, teach me, teach me. So it was really a life -- a musical life in my home.
NNAMDIA musical life that you have been passing on to others ever since then. Howard, how do you connect with Flory's songs to make it personal for you too?
BASSWell, I spend a lot of time with Flory. There was a period of time where I would go to Flory's house once a week and essentially take a lesson from her in how to accompany her songs. And it was a repetitive process in which we went over and over songs. And finally she said, well now you're got all the notes. Now you need to put something of yourself into the music. And I thought, well maybe she means I should improvise a little bit.
BASSBut as soon as I departed from her accompaniment she'd say, no, no, no, I don't mean that. You have to play it this way. And then finally after it dawned on me what she meant by yourself was your soul, as Susan said earlier. She meant to put your heart into it. And she loves to do what she calls the mushy songs, love songs. And it was a while before she finally complimented me on my ability to be as mushy as she was.
GAETAA few years as I remember, yeah.
BASSIt took a few years, yeah. So, yeah, it was really an amazing connection for me because I had learned all my music previously from notes and from music -- written music. And from -- learning with Flory was very much watching, listening and learning from her.
NNAMDIFlory, do you find that young people are interested in learning this music?
JAGODAThey have to be exposed a little bit to it. Now I don't know what young you mean, but more or less the Sephardic music you have to feel it from inside. You have to feel what is going on in the music and try to continue with a lot of feeling.
BASSI think he means young people like us.
JAGODAYeah, well, kind of everybody -- if you're 90, everybody is younger.
NNAMDISo it would appear. And Howard, on the last song, you played the guitar. Now you're playing the lute. And since you have it in your hands, give us a little indication of what it sounds like.
NNAMDIThat's Howard Bass giving us a little indication of what the lute by itself sounds like. Now if you'd like to hear the lute as a part of Trio Sefardi, maybe they can do "Jomin Amori" (sp?) for us so you can hear more of it and Trio Sefardi playing together.
NNAMDIThe members of Trio Sefardi performing "Jomin Amori." We're joined in studio by Flory Jagoda. She's a singer, musician and composer. She's also a National Heritage Fellow for the National Endowment for the Arts. Can you put Flory's headphones on again, please, because I have one more question before I ask you to play again. Flory, you turn 90 years old this month and your husband will be celebrating his 100th birthday this month as well. So congratulations and good luck to you both.
JAGODAThank you, thank you.
NNAMDIYou've gone back to Bosnia to perform in Sarajevo and you took this trio with you. What was it like to return to your homeland after living for so many decades abroad?
JAGODAWell, it has to end up a little bit sad because of this question. It was not only going to give a concert but they have also prepared or maybe managed to go to a forest where my whole family was shot and finished more or less this Sephardic little village that -- where we lived. There is nobody left.
NNAMDIBut nevertheless, it was a trip that you have made more than once.
JAGODAI have -- this one was tough when the last one.
NNAMDIThis was more difficult.
JAGODAYeah, this was a little difficult, yes.
NNAMDII'd like to end with one of your most beloved songs, your composition "O'Co Kandelikas." It's been sung by music groups around the world and we would love for you to sing it for us on our way out.
NNAMDIFlory Jagoda and Trio Sefardi, thank you so much for joining us, and good luck to all of you. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, what the U.S.'s concerns about China's latest move. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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