Ensemble to celebrate Ladino culture at Union

Publication Date

A queen who runs away with her slave. Brides who abandon their weddings and join a ship full of sailors. Men who go courting, only to get tossed down a well.

These tales are inspired by the Ladino tradition, the songs and stories carried by Sephardic Jews when they were evicted from Spain and settled on the coasts of Greece and Turkey in the 15th century.

The Guy Mendilow Ensemble, a world-class quintet featuring musicians from Israel, Palestine, Argentina and the U.S., bring their “Tales from the Forgotten Kingdom” tour to Memorial Chapel Thursday, Sept. 15 at 7:30 p.m.

Admission is free with a Union ID; $15 for the general public. Tickets are available at the door.

“If you like Game of Thrones, these stories are for you,” said the Israeli-born Mendilow. “The tales are amazing. The melodies twist and turn, like the culture of adaptation Sephardic musicians embraced. Much of it is modal music, with elements that run from epic tunes to early 20th-century foxtrots and tangos, and all of it is mesmerizing, in its beauty and intensity.”

When the Sephardi Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492, they eventually settled in communities from Northern Africa and the Middle East to the Mediterranean and the Balkans, according to the ensemble’s website. In each adopted home, their language, food, customs and songs retained their identity, but also began soaking in local flavors of the new cultures. Musically, this resulted in a rich, deep and fascinating blending of rhythms, modes and melodies.

Viki Brooks, director of the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life and campus Protestant minister, invited the ensemble to campus after hearing them perform at a national conference for College Chaplains.

“I was captivated by the sound as well as Mendilow's commitment to be an educator about a lost culture, the Ladino culture,” Brooks said. “This richly textured sound has deep roots in a time in history when Christians, Jews and Muslims respected and celebrated their differences. Mendilow's mission and the music he passionately presents, offer a modern world fractured by religious conflict a way to celebrate religious diversity.”

The performance is sponsored by the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and Multicultural Affairs.