Lily Henley: Oras Dezaoradas

Lily Henley is a US singer, composer, and musician who up to now has been best known for her work in American roots and traditional music. For this new album she turns to her Sephardic Jewish heritage and has come up with a collection of songs drawing entirely on that tradition and sung in Ladino – an endangered language that fuses old Spanish with Hebrew, Arabic, and Turkish elements.

The Sephardic Jews were expelled from Spain in the 15th century on penalty of death but kept their culture alive as they moved throughout North Africa and the Ottoman Empire. Some of the ballads here date from those early times and Henley sets them to new melodies as well as writing three original songs in Ladino.

She explains: “There are so few young musicians in this song tradition, “and, to me, doing an album of the old melodies, re-recording what people have already recorded, didn’t make me excited. This feels inspiring because I’m creating music that feels really authentic and original to me and I’m adding to this tradition that is very endangered.”

All but the last of the ten tracks have music she composed and some of the old songs have words adapted by her. Henley sings and plays fiddle and guitar and is accompanied by Duncan Wickel (violin, cello, guitars, octave mandolin, piano, background vocals) and Haggai Cohen-Milo (double bass). She travelled to Paris for the recordings and was welcomed there by the largest Sephardic community in Europe.

Lily Henley (Photo: Ally Schmaling)

She has a strong, clear voice and the arrangements are very engaging. None more so than on the opening track ‘Duermite Mi Alma’ in which guitar and fiddle are joined to very tasty effect by bass and piano as the song builds. Another standout is her composition ‘La Galud’ with its attractive melody, and there is even a hint of a wider affinity with the Basque songs of Maider Zabalegi.

The folk songs on Oras Dezaoradas are drawn from living sources, old archives, and medieval love poems. They all have a strong female emphasis as much of the music was kept alive by the women who, in doing so, were going against standard gender roles. Unusually, the women in these Sephardic songs displayed a powerful independence as they sang of their daily thoughts and concerns.

Lily Henley has created a valuable work in the Sephardic song tradition. She manages at once to keep these ballads alive and to render them completely up to date for a modern audience as well as adding some new ones of her own. The CD booklet contains the original Ladino song lyrics alongside English translations.

Oras Dezaoradas will be released by Lior Éditions on 6th May.

Explore posts in the same categories: Roots Music from Out There

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: