Re-Run: Muslim Spain–The Soundtrack

The perversity of the universe being what it is, the final stages of renovating our new-old house and finishing my book proposal have collided.  Instead of driving myself mad trying to write blog posts or letting History in the Margins go blank for a few weeks, I decided to run some of my favorite posts from the days when only a handful of people read along.  I hope to produce some new content along the way*, so re-runs will be clearly marked. 

And now, without further ado, I bring you 

Muslim Spain: the Soundtrack

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 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, like the language itself, carries the history of the Sephardic community in its sound. It has elements in common with Portuguese fado, Spanish flamenco, Jewish klezmer music, and Turkish folk songs.

Today the ladino speaking community is small. Perhaps 20,000 speakers. Like other embattled language groups–the Gaelic speakers of Ireland, the French-speaking Cajuns of southwest Louisiana–Sephardic activists are working to keep their language alive.

Take a moment to check out this video of Jasmine Levy in performance:**

Remember. You heard it here first.

*I have some stories I’m dying to tell you.  I want to tell you about Flat Arthur.  I want to ponder the Roman Empire in the Middle East.  I want to remember the Alamo.  But first I need to get this dang proposal off to my agent and get a house finished.
**If you subscribe to History in the Margins by e-mail, you need to go to the website to see the video clip. Just click on the title.



  1. Jane on February 20, 2014 at 6:28 pm

    I’m glad you’re doing repeats because I’m new and missed the originals. Nice to know about Ladino—language and music.

    • pamela on February 20, 2014 at 6:43 pm

      Jane: Thanks for the thumbs-up. It’s a good way to keep the blog going when I’m overwhelmed. I promise not to abuse it.

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