Sephardic Song - Jewish music with a world pulse

Music makes the heart gentle and happy.
- Ladino Proverb

Born of Eastern and Western influences, Hebrew and Arabic songs were part of religious and community life in the Sephardic world, and Ladino songs filled the home.

Ladino songs were maintained by women through the generations, in a language based on pre-1492 Spanish. Most of the Ladino-speaking Jewish community was killed in the Holocaust. Leahaliza Lee gives expression to those who were lost and have no one to speak for them. Though the songs come from long ago and far away, their themes of finding your place in love, family, and the world, remain timeless.

Leahaliza most commonly performs at intimate house concerts. In addition, she has also performed at the Michigan Festival of Sacred Music, the New York Jewish Music Festival, Wayne State University Cohn-Haddow Center for Judaic Studies. University of Michigan Frankel Center for Judaic Studies Symposium: Sephardic Identities, Limmud, and Carnegie Hall. She also performs at intimate house concerts. Her original work in Hebrew, English, and Ladino is published in the Kol Isha Songbook, a publication of the Women Cantors Network.

Influenced by synagogue chant, Fado singer Amalia Rodrigues, Nasrin Qadri of Israel, Freddy Mercury, and the singing women of her own family, Leahaliza finds the diversity of base in Detroit to be especially inspiring. For centuries, Spain has been known for being home to history's greatest era of creative sharing among members of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish faiths. Detroit is a modern intersection point of these same cultures. There, she encountered world class accompanists who add to the spirit of her voice.


Languages of Sephardic Song - Ladino, Hebrew, & Arabic

LADINO is unique to the Sephardic community. Like its close relative Spanish, originates from the Latin of the Roman Empire, and emerged from the Jewish community of Spain. For much of history, Ladino was the everyday language for the majority of Jews around the world. During the Holocaust, most of the Ladino-speaking communities were destroyed and most of the speakers were killed. Today, song is the major way that Ladino remains alive to remind us of a history that has little in the way of writing or photos to keep it alive. The Ladino language can transport us to an understanding of how repercussions of events long ago affect us today.

Spain was a major center for Jewish life for well over 1000 years. For much of that time, Spain was divided between Christian and Muslim rule, and there were many opportunities for intellectual and creative collaboration among the different groups. In 1491, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella overthrew the Muslims from their last stronghold  and in 1492, they created the Edict of Expulsion of the Jews.

Hebrew has always been the language of Judaism, and Arabic was a major language for those living under Muslim rule, but Ladino was the language of the home. At the time of the expulsion, Jews left Spain with their language of what was then contemporary Spain. The language carried outside of Spain developed differently from the language inside Spain. 

Ladino retained some of the characteristics of archaic Spanish mixed with Hebrew, and as the Jews of Spain moved to other areas of the world, words from the languages of their new lands were adopted into Ladino. Musical influences arose from the mixed Muslim, Christian, and Jewish cultures of Spain and continued be flavored with sounds from the lands to which the Jews traveled and made lives in new countries. We have Ladino songs today thanks to generations of mothers who passed them to their daughters.


ARABIC was the colloquial, business, and scholarly language for Jewish inhabitants of Arab lands starting during Biblical times when Jewish communities were established throughout the Middle East. The 800 year period of Muslim existence in Spain produced works such Guide to the Perplexed and others by Maimonides, Duties of the Heart by Rabbi Bachya ibn Paquda, and established a tradition of poetry writing by Jewish authors that we enjoy today as part of liturgy. After 1492, many Jewish exiles from Spain joined pre-existing Judeo-Arabic communities, adopting the language in which they continued to speak, write, create music, and sing. Arab musical influences as well as full melodies also inspired many liturgical Hebrew song poems.

HEBREW, starting as a Semetic language dialect, became the established language of the Jewish people and remained the main liturgical language even after Jewish communities around the world took other languages as their daily language. Works in Hebrew are colored by the cultural and religous worlds of their writers, both in terms of structure of poetry, and sounds of song.