Any artist working in “World Music” (likely the vaguest genre for which Billboard tracks sales) has to determine the role traditional sounds play in their compositions. They hang suspended between the present and the past; too much fealty to the canon and the recordings become academic exercises in evoking a world long gone. Update your sound too much and you risk severing your connection to the folk vernacular entirely. After all, all music comes from somewhere in the world but no one calls Lady Gaga “World Music.”
This conflict between history and the now is dramatically enacted in Sarah Aroeste’s music. Not only does Aroeste labor in an idiom that dates back to the 15th century, but she does so for an audience that doesn’t even speak the language. Ladino, the Judeo-Spanish language of much of the Sephardic diaspora, is spoken by less than 100,000 people around the world today, most of whom live in Israel. Aroeste is not the only Ladino singer in 2012, but with Gracia, her third album, she is its most public face.