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Musician Embraces Ancient Musical Roots

The Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. held a concert this week to help revive traditional Sephardic music from the former Yugoslavia. For producer Valer Gergely, VOA's Jim Bertel has more on the performance.

Flory Jagoda comes from a centuries-old tradition with roots in the Iberian Peninsula. Her family was one of many Sephardic Jewish families forced to flee Spain and Portugal in the 14th and 15th centuries. Today, she is the sole survivor.

Sephardic Jews took refuge in North Africa and in parts of Europe, with the largest concentration finding safe haven in the Mediterranean region. They were able to take very little with them, but preserved their oral culture, language and songs. "National Heritage Award" winner Flory Jagoda's songs are the echoes of old Spain.

"We call it Sephardic music that comes from the word ‘Sepharad,’ which in Hebrew means Spain,” she explains. “The Sephardim came from Spain. They immigrated to Bosnia, the Sarajevo area – where I was born – around 1560 and settled around Sarajevo. My ‘Nona,’ my grandmother, was also a folk singer. She sang these songs that we call ‘Ladino,’ Judeo-Spanish."

Flory Jagoda says Americans knew very little about the Sephardic culture when she arrived in the U.S. in 1946, but, since then, they have learned more about it.

"They knew it is Jewish music because it was advertised as Jewish music, but nobody heard ‘Jewish-Spanish,’ it just didn't click. After they heard all the holiday songs, then it started to make sense. I had calls from synagogues, from different organizations if I would come in, and I got them to hear and know more about it, little by little."

Devoted to the preservation of her heritage, she has performed throughout the U.S. and abroad as a soloist and with her family or friends. Her repertoire includes Ladino, Italian, Serbo-Croatian folk songs and her own compositions.

"I personally carry my own goal to have this music heard, to teach, to perform, to continue before it is lost," she says.

Flory Jagoda's performance at the Library of Congress was recorded for the archive of the American Folklife Center that preserves and presents American folklife through programs, exhibitions and live performances.