Ladino, or Judeo-Spanish, is the language of the Jews of the Spanish Diaspora. The Jews that fled Spain during the Inquisition (Sephardic Jews) spoke a language similar if not essentially identical to the Castilian Spanish of the time. However, outside of Spain, the vocabulary evolved as Ladino speakers assimilated words from the countries in which they settled throughout the Mediterranean and the world. 

The rich sounds in Ladino come from this pan-Mediterranean scope, incorporating words from Spanish, Greek, Turkish, Portuguese, French, Hebrew, Arabic, and Bosnian.  While Ladino was generally only spoken and understood by Sephardic Jews, the city of Thesaloniki in Greece was so heavily influenced by their culture, that the language became the lingua franca of the local markets.

Today, fewer than one hundred thousand people can speak the language; most of who are in Israel and have not passed it down to their children and grandchildren. As such, it is a language at risk of extinction. 

The music, however, is enjoying a revival among artists who recognize its combination of Spanish poetry, Middle Eastern passion and the soulful expression of the Jewish Diaspora.

While some of the lyrics of Ladino songs may come from Spain, the melodies have most likely not been preserved and have been heavily influenced by the cultures within which Sephardic Jews settled. However, several experts have agreed that there is an element that distinguishes Ladino songs from other folkloric songs, making them particularly Sephardic folk songs – something that cannot be defined in words, but that can be understood through listening. 

These songs tell bittersweet stories of love and heartbreak, failure and redemption, birth and death. Both their words and subtle melodies imbue them with a sense of the fragility of life, and it is through singing them that we can share in these simple truths. By interpreting them and creating them in the modern world, we keep them alive.