Album Review of
Ke Haber

Written by Joe Ross
July 26, 2022 - 3:31pm EDT
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A few months ago, I reviewed an album called Hixa Mía from Spanish viola da gambist and vocalist Pilar Almalé who wistfully sang several traditional songs on it in Judaeo-Spanish (aka Ladino), a Romance language derived from Old Spanish spoken by Sephardim who settled in the Eastern Mediterranean after their expulsion from Spain in 1492. Now, I find myself reviewing an entire album called Ke Haber (What’s New) from Israeli artist Nani Noam Vazana who sings and writes in the endangered language that’s only spoken today by about 60,000 people. Her inspiration can be traced back to hearing her grandmother sing in Ladino, accompanied by fascinating rhythms, in her Moroccan kitchen.

Vazana captures the spirit of the ancient, matriarchal language, delicately accompanied by piano, guitar, bass, percussion and a few hints of cello, charango and trombone. Lyrics celebrate migration, gender and female empowerment. Using the music to build a bridge from the past to the future, the album opens with “Cok Seni Severim” (I Love You Too Much), a mash-up of a Turkish love song and a Ladino children’s song. Using “El Gacela” (The Gazelle) to portray graceful beauty, she puts homoerotic poetry written by two rabbis (Samuel ibn Naghrillah and Moses ibn Ezra) in the 10th century into a traditional-sounding original melody embellished by Chilean Jorge Bravo’s delicate flamenco guitar work.

In “Sin Dingun Hijo Varon” (Without Any Sons), the message refers to a gender identity struggle, subsequent transition and desire for family acceptance. Based on an ancient Sephardic ceremony (La Mortaja), “Una Segunda Piel’ (A Second Skin), with English lyrics also, is a celebratory exclamation of peace-of-mind when one’s death leads to rebirth and calm. Other interesting tracks include her medley with a cover of Sting’s “Shape of my Heart” followed by her self-penned “Mi Korazon” (My Heart).  Another “heart” song, “Fada de Mi Korazon” (Fairy of My Heart) is based on a 12th century ritual where women in a circle pass around a baby to bless and protect it.

Closing on a joyful note with a Violeta Parra cover called “Gracias a la Vida” (Thanks to Life), Nani Noam Vazana demonstrates her affinity for the “Nueva Cancion” (new song) music of Chile and Argentina in the 1960s. With one foot firmly entrenched in tradition, she also chooses repertoire with meaning and relevance for the moment. Accessing material from centuries ago for its poetic emotion and brash sensuality, she also seems committed to champion equality, justice, acceptance and freedom. (Joe Ross, Roots Music Report)