January 11, 2011 — The Virginia Folklife Program at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities will present Sephardic ballad singer and composer Flory Jagoda, known as the "keeper of the flame" of Sephardic music in the United States, in concert on Jan. 22 at 7 p.m. at Congregation Beth Israel at 301 E. Jefferson St.
Jagoda will perform with singer and guitarist Susan Gaeta, Jagoda's apprentice in the 2002 Virginia Folklife Apprenticeship Program.
Tickets are $15 general admission; $10 children under 12. For tickets, call 434-295-6382 or visit virginiafolklife.org.
Jagoda, of Alexandria, is recognized internationally as an important advocate of the musical and cultural tradition of the Sephardic Jews of the Iberian peninsula, and in particular of the Jewish community of Sarajevo, Bosnia. A gifted musician and storyteller, Jagoda has helped to preserve Ladino language and song through performance, teaching and recording.
In 2002, Jagoda received the National Heritage Fellowship Lifetime Honor from the National Endowment for the Arts, the highest honor the U.S. bestows on a traditional artist, and was a master artist in the 2002 Virginia Folklife Apprenticeship Program.
Performing with colleagues including Gaeta, as well as with her children – themselves accomplished musicians – Jagoda has traveled extensively throughout the U.S. and Europe, accompanying herself on the guitar and sharing the musical, cultural and linguistic heritage of the Sephardim.
Jagoda performs traditional songs learned from her family and from the larger Sephardic community of Sarajevo, and writes original songs in Ladino, based on her memories of family and deeply rooted in Sephardic melody.
Through Jagoda's performances, traditional Ladino ballads such as "Adio Kerida" ("Farewell, Beloved") as well as her own songs in the Sephardic tradition, including "Ocho Kandelikas" ("Eight Candles"), have become well-known by enthusiastic audiences around the world.
Expelled from their homelands of Spain and Portugal in the 15th century, Sephardic Jews settled throughout the Mediterranean basin, bringing with them their native language, Ladino (also known as Judezmo, or Judeo-Spanish), with roots in Spanish and Hebrew. Sarajevo, Bosnia ("Little Jerusalem") became a thriving center of Sephardic Jewish life.
The Altaras family of singers and musicians, with Jagoda's grandmother at its center, was an integral part of the Sephardic community in Vlasenica, the small town near Sarajevo in northern Bosnia where Jagoda was raised. From her "nona" (grandmother), she learned the traditional Sephardic songs that had been passed down in her family for generations. After moving to Zagreb with her mother and stepfather, Jagoda took music lessons and learned to play the accordion, or "harmonica."
When Germany and its allies imposed anti-Jewish regulations in Zagreb after the invasion of Yugoslavia in 1941, Jagoda and her parents were interned on the island of Korchula on the Dalmatian coast, finally escaping to Bari, Italy. After the Allied invasion of Italy in 1943, Jagoda found work with the American forces in Bari, meeting Sgt. Harry Jagoda, whom she married after the war in June 1945, returning with him to the United States the following year. The couple eventually settled in Washington, D.C., and raised three children.
When she finally returned to Sarajevo with her husband in the early 1980s, Jagoda learned that 42 members of her family, including her beloved Nona, had been murdered and buried in a mass grave during the regime of the Ustase (pro-German Croatian nationalists) in Croatia, along with the majority of the region's Sephardic Jewish community.
Jagoda was invited to perform in Sarajevo following the conclusion of the Bosnian War in 1995. Her audience included several of the few Sephardic survivors of the Bosnian Holocaust.
Now in her 80s, Jagoda continues to tour actively and has four CDs in wide circulation. She has performed at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Greater Washington Jewish Folk Arts Festival, The United States Holocaust Museum, and many other venues.
"We are very excited about this performance," said Jon Lohman, director of the Virginia Folklife Program at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. "Flory and Susan are incredibly accomplished musicians, doing valuable work to help preserve the Sephardic musical tradition through performance and teaching. Their concert will be entertaining and informative, and will appeal to children as well as adults."
The concert is a benefit for the Flory Jagoda Sephardic Music Fund at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, established to help preserve, support and perpetuate the Sephardic musical tradition.
The Folklife Apprenticeship Program is an initiative of the Virginia Folklife Program. The Virginia Folklife Program documents, presents and supports Virginia's living cultures, traditions and folkways. The Virginia Folklife Program is a program of the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, a statewide organization based at the University of Virginia and created in 1974 to enhance the civic, cultural and intellectual life of the Commonwealth by creating learning opportunities for all Virginians.