By Pamela Toler
These days, I’m spending a lot of time in Muslim Spain–a golden age of cross-cultural pollination by any standard. At a time when most of Europe was wallowing in the Dark Ages, Muslim Spain was a center of wealth, learning–and (relative) tolerance. If you wanted libraries, hot baths, or good health care, Spain was the place to be.
I recently discovered the perfect soundtrack for thinking about Muslim Spain: the ladino music of Yasmin Levy.
Ladino is the Sephardic equivalent of Yiddish. (Sephardic comes from the Hebrew word for Spain.) Spoken by the Jews of Muslim Spain, ladino began as a combination of Hebrew and Spanish. When their most Catholic majesties Isabella and Ferdinand expelled the Jews from Spain in 1492, most of them sought protection in the Muslim states of North Africa and the Ottoman Empire. Over time, their language took on elements of Arabic, Greek, Turkish, French, and the Slavic languages of the Balkans.
Ladino music, too, carries the history of the Sephardic community in its sound. It has elements in common with Portuguese fado, Spanish flamenco, and Jewish klezmer music.
Take a moment to listen as Yasmin Levy sings El amor contigo, from her latest album, Sentir (To Feel)
Remember. You heard it here first.
About the author: Pamela Toler is a freelance writer with a PhD in history and a large bump of curiosity. She is particularly interested in the times and places where two cultures meet and change.