Leahaliza Lee was recently accepted by the Michigan Arts & Humanities Council as an adjudiciated member of the MHC Artist Touring Directly.

The updated directory will is coming soon to the MHC website. Apply for grant support to host Leahaliza for an event.

Sephardic Song - Jewish music with a world pulse.

Songs of the Sephardic world come to us in Hebrew, Arabic, and most uniquely, Ladino. The song traditions of women have kept Ladino songs alive through the generations. Whether with a single accompanist or an ensemble, LeahAliza Lee honors the authentic sound of Ladino song: a woman's voice honed by the experiences of living. Though the songs come from long ago and far away, their stories of finding your place in love, family, and the world, remain timeless.
 

You need a special kind of voice to sing Ladino songs, and Leahaliza's got it.”

— Cantor Barry Ulrych

Leahaliza Lee has Mediterranean honey tones, perfect for Spanish, Turkish, and North African music, and similar to the voice of classic Portuguese Fado singer Amalia Rodriguez”

— Jade Fairfax, Alvorada America

Enchanting. Lifechanging. A unique, awesome voice. I cried. Just gorgeous. Beautiful in every way, What a great pleasure. I'm lost of words. Wonderful. I love the weaving in of stories and history. So beautifully done. ”

— Comments from listeners

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Music to Soothe the Quarantined Brain 

I met a woman in Portugal online who noticed that La Serena had melodic similarities to a Portugese song, Cancao de Embalar. La Serena could be a bedtime story, Cancao de Embalar reads like a lullabye. Double meanings have been discussed for both. We played with the two songs, and I created the video. One of the challenges I encountered while working on the project was having limitations on how I could mix the Portugese track (I've been working on producting skills during my isolation), and I ended up with both songs sung together all the way through. I worked on the blend so that the result would be soothing and not headache inducing. I've always been bothered by hearing two things at one time, especially two pieces of music.

As I worked on the track, I noticed that what I heard depended on where I set my focus.I wanted to bring out the Portugese song but I had to be audible enough so it was clear that I was singing in response to Vanda's pacing, and so I didn't sound like background interference. I wasn't bothered by the combination - and I realized that being in isolation with my family changed my brain in terms of how it responds to lots of different sounds. If my husband is on the phone, my daughter is on the piano, and I'm working on a song, my experience changes depending on how I shift my focus and expectations. I'm finding that mixtures of sounds that used to bother me, now have a way of falling into place.

In honor of the brain-altering effects of isolation, I share this combination of Cancao de Embalar and La Serena. Think of it in the same way as the Spinning Dancer Illusion. Which way is she turning? it depends on how you look. Play with your perceptions as you experience this video, or eliminate your expectations and immerse yourself in the experience.

Quarantine Holidays 

 

Quarantine doesn't mean nothing to do, but amidst this different kind of busy, I've done more music production. Among my projects were pieces related to to recent holidays. The first, a cover of Leonard Cohen's Dance Me to the End of Love, I recorded months ago and Stefan Kukurugya was going to finish. He did some instrumental accompaniment but before he could finish. he became ill. Though he was declined for testing, his symptoms were worrisome. Fortunately he made a good recovery and jumped back into working on the piece to have it ready for Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The second piece was impromptu. A friend recorded herself doing a piano improvisation (Pelin de Grasset of France, who did the improv in my Yo Menamori D'un Aire).I heard the beginning, and jumped into singing Como La Rosa en la Guerta, and recording. The song fit perfectly and I decided I wanted to make a video honoring Israel's Day of Remembrance (Yom HaZikaron). The song, which expresses mourning the loss of a daughter, is somewhat off the topic I showed in a photo montage, but I used it as a springboard to recognize the contributions of women in the IDF who devote themselves to training and engaging in combat.

 

 

Something Different 

Based on my studies of the maqam system of Arab music, I created this chant for a group of women and recently brought it to a meditation group. There are 18 tones each time the prayer is repeated. Modah Ani (Modeh for men), is said right upon waking in the morning. It's from a time when people believed that the soul left the the body to sleep, just as in death, and was written as an expression of gratitude for the soul being returned to the body for another day of life. I also give thanks to Rocio Martin for her soulful percussion and artwork, and Taylor Maclaurin for mesmerizing animation.

Moda ani lefanecha - I give thanks to You

Melech chai vekayam - living and enduring Soverign

Shechezarta bi nishmati bechemla - for returning my soul to me in compassion.

Raba emunatecha - Great is Your faithfulness.

 

Songs are Like College Applications  

My daughter just finished consolidating her entire life's school and life experience into a demographic summary, several essays from 100-650 words, and several lines and checkboxes on the Common App, the system which enables application to more colleges than you can keep up with. We hope that somehow, application readers are able to somehow perceive the real person behind the pdf the will view.

Songs are the same way - centuries of experience becomes consolidated into a few words. We have no more with which to understand the people behind the songs than the knowledge of their words and scant information on their origins. I try to enter and appreciate the stories of the songs and the people who created them, just as I hope the people who read my daughter's applications will try to get a real sense of who she is.

Earlier this month I did a program titled Advice from the Women of Jewish Spain, using songs and historic readings to help the audience get in touch with the people who created and carried the songs. I performed at Shaarey Tzedek Synagogue's Berman Center. Click here and scroll down to find video from the program.

Unusual Chanukah Song 

There aren't many Chanukah songs in Ladino, and when one comes to mind, it's rarely this one with Turkish roots. I hear it as a sort of psychadelic love song - and the objects of love are the deep fried honey dipped dough balls, known as burmuelos, made to commemorate the miracle of the oil. Fazeremos Una Merenda means it's time to make a meal, and the rest of the song is the recipe for burmuelos. The repeated expression Yaraman Enrume Aman doesn't translate well but I say it's the feeling you get when you've been looking forward all year to a favorite holiday food, and you finally get your first taste in a year.

International Collaboration 

My mother would have wanted me to do something special to celebrate my recent acceptance into the Michigan Humanities Council Touring Directory. One thing she wanted me to do was make more videos and be creative with them. With creative, inspiring women from different parts of the world, the new Yo Menamore D'un Aire video is what emerged. Over the years this song's melody has taken many directions in my mind, which came to the surface when I heard Pelin's guitar composition. I had seen Laura's artwork and knew that her swirling clouds and water reflected the way the song transformed over time and lent themselves so well to Taylor's animations, further expressing the feelings that evolve throughout the song. I am appreciative to these artists for inspiring me and being part of this video.

Lullaby for Debbie 

Last week after I performed at the Sacred Music Festival in Kalamazoo MI, an audience member named Debbie told me that she heard that a lot of Ladino songs were lullabies. Most of the songs I performed were probably used as lullabies but I hadn't included any specific lullabies in the set. I promised her a link to one I performed awhile back. When I sat down to do that, realized I never posted the video I was thinking of. Nani means rocking ---

Nani means rocking --- Rocking - while I am rocking my son to sleep, I wish that he will live long enough to grow tall. Rocking - while I am rocking my son to sleep, I wait for my husband to come home from working late in the fields, he will be happy to see you. Rocking - while I am rocking my son to sleep, my husband comes home tired, long after I know his work has been done. Rocking - while I am rocking my son to sleep, I hope my husband will remember that I am the woman who has given him a son.

When all you can say is thank you 

I'd like to thank everyone who gave so much love and support in the days after my mother died this month. She's given my family signs that she is still around, and a call from a cousin yesterday seemed to provide words my mother would want me to hear. My cousin hadn't spoken to my mother in a long time, and in asking about her latest years, wondered if my mother's voice had grown weak with age or whether sh still spoke in "that beautiful resonant low voice" that my cousin remembered. My mother whispered her final words but up to that point, did in fact have much the same voice as she did in her youth.

When my husband met her, he asked if her voice was always as low as it was at that point, and while I had never considered her voice separately from the whole elegant, stately package, I said yes. In retrospect, the voice may have seemed low for her body but it suited her demeanor and never seemed out of place. It wasn't a sultry low; it was a New York-accented no-nonsense low.  If she was elegant and stately it was a lucky accident, but she was intentionally no-nonsense.

I had a sudden understanding of why  I am drawn to exploring the lows of songs rather than the highs, even though I'm told higher is where I should be - I grew up fondly hearing a low voice. My cousin's bringing to my attention the longevity of my mother's strong voice seemed like an assurance from my mother of many more decades of singing ahead of me and to continue challenging my voice in my own, often unconventional, way. Thank you for that and indescribably much more.

Tribute 

It's been a year since the loss of my wonderful Father-in-Law, and tragically soon after, our beautiful niece. A friend's lovely violin accompaniment to this classic song inspired me to create this tribute. For those traveling to other worlds, this is quite the welcome committee.